KEIR RADNEDGE REPORTING —- Richard Lai, a member of FIFA’s central audit and compliance committee, has pleaded guilty in the United States to corruption charges in the ongoing FIFAGate investigation.
Lai, president of the Guam Football Association and a US citizen, has admitted two counts of wire fraud and one count of not reporting a foreign account.
His case brings the FIFAGate investigation into new, Asian, territory because of the apparent direct links to Mohamed bin Hammam. The latter, a Qatari former president of the Asian confederation, is under a life ban for misuse of AFC funds.
Lai is the first new addition to the charge sheet of the Department of Justice since March last year when Colombian Miguel Trujillo pleaded guilty to four counts of wire fraud conspiracy, money laundering conspiracy and tax fraud.
In addition to being a member of the FIFA audit body, Lai is also a member of the Asian confederation’s marketing committee and a former member of its executive committee.
FIFA’s audit and compliance committee was created in the reform programme launched in 2011 to try to help clean up not only the world football federation’s governance systems but the wreckage of its scandal-scarred reputation.
Domenico Scala, the committee’s original chairman, resigned last year in protest at the withdrawal of its independence by FIFA Congress, at the controversial request of president Gianni Infantino. Current chairman is Tomaz Vesel from Slovenia.
Bridget Rohde, Acting United States Attorney, threw FIFA’s self-policing ability back into question by saying: “The defendant’s 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.”
In a Brooklyn court on Thursday, Lai said he had taken bribes amounting to $100,000 in 2011 from a candidate for the FIFA presidency in return for his support and vote as president of the Guam Football Association.
He never disclosed receiving $100,000 — which came from an account in Qatar and was deposited to Lai’s bank in the Philippines — despite knowing that the candidate was being investigated by FIFA at the time.
Bin Hammam link
This candidate can only have been Bin Hammam who was seeking to oust Sepp Blatter as FIFA president in the spring of 2011. Bin Hammam was suspended shortly before the vote over cash payments made to delegates from some Caribbean associations after a campaign conference in Port of Spain, Trinidad.
Controversy has long surrounded Bin Hammam’s role in support of the Qatari bid which, surprisingly, had won host rights in December 2010 to the 2022 World Cup.
According to US media reports, Lai also said he also received more than $850,000 in bribes between 2009 and 2014 from an unnamed member of Kuwait Football Association to use his influence to advance the interests of the Kuwaiti official.
These “interests” included helping the Kuwaiti identify other AFC individuals possibly susceptible to bribery.
The bribes were disguised as payments to hire a coach for Guam, but Lai said the money was ultimately deposited in his personal account. He regularly asked for more money “for coaches,” which came in the form of wire transfers.
Lai said in court: “The term ‘coach’ was code for payment, for me personally. I never used those funds to pay for a coach for Guam … I kept it for myself and never told anyone.”
The admissions have prompted Lai’s suspension from all football by the FIFA Ethics Committee and by the AFC disciplinary panel after he agreed to pay into court more than $1.1m in forfeiture and penalties.
The US FIFAGate investigation was revealed on May 27, 2015, after seven senior football executives had been detained in Zurich on the eve of FIFA Congress. Six were extradited to the US and one to Uruguay.
Initially 12 individuals and two companies were accused of corruption involving skimming off cash from sponsorship and television rights contracts in international football in the Americas.
Later a further 27 individuals were indicted although some are contesting extradition. These include former CONCACAF president Jack Warner (in Trinidad & Tobago) and ex-CONMEBOL president Nicolas Leoz (in Paraguay).
Brazilian confederation president Marco Polo del Nero and a predecessor, Ricardo Teixeira, cannot be extradited from Brazil because of a protective clause in the national constitution.
An Argentinian court has rejected extradition applications for three former executives of the TyC marketing giant pending the consideration of charges in domestic courts.
The majority of those brought to court in the US have negotiated plea bargains with entencing due to begin shortly. Five not guilty pleas have been registered and these individuals are due to face trial in November.
Full text of the indictment: http://keirradnedge.com/2017/