FIFA: Top Official Richard Lai Admits Bribery Charges

Richard Lai

(Reuters) – A member of FIFA’s audit and compliance committee was handed a provisional 90-ban from football on Friday, a day after pleading guilty in a U.S court to taking bribes in exchange for using his influence within the global soccer body.

FIFA’s ethics committee said it suspended Richard Lai, who is also president of the Guam Football Association (GFA), at the request of its chief investigator Cornely Borbely.

Lai, 55, pleaded guilty on Thursday to wire fraud conspiracy charges before U.S. District Judge Pamela Chen in Brooklyn, according to U.S. prosecutors who said he had taken close to $1 million in bribes.

As part of the plea, Lai, a U.S. citizen, has agreed to pay $1.1 million, prosecutors said.

He was not among several dozen officials and sports marketing agencies, mainly from Latin America, who were indicted in the United States in 2015 in the biggest crisis in FIFA’s history.

Lai, who has been president of the GFA since 2001, sits on the committee responsible for checking FIFA’s financial accounting.

He was also suspended on Friday by the Asian Football Confederation (AFC), where he is a member of the marketing committee.

The Pacific island of Guam is a U.S. territory, though its football association is a member of the AFC. As a full FIFA member, it holds a vote in FIFA presidential elections.

Announcing Lai’s guilty plea, the U.S. department of justice said his “breach of trust was particularly significant given his position as a member of the FIFA Audit and Compliance committee, which must play an important and independent role if corruption within FIFA is to be eliminated.”
(Reporting by Aditi Prakash and Brian Homewood in Bern; editing by John Stonestreet)