NEW YORK (AP) — An Asia-based FIFA official has pleaded guilty in a U.S. court to charges relating to bribery and corruption in elections for soccer’s world governing body.
Guam Football Association President Richard Lai, who is a member of FIFA’s Audit and Compliance Committee and is on the Asian Football Confederation’s executive board, pleaded guilty in a federal courthouse in Brooklyn on Thursday to two counts of wire fraud conspiracy in connection with multiple schemes to accept and pay bribes to soccer officials.
Lai, a U.S. citizen, also pleaded guilty to failing to disclose foreign bank accounts and agreed to pay more than $1.1 million in forfeiture and penalties. The plea was entered before U.S. District Judge Pamela K. Chen.
Bridget M. Rohde, an Acting U.S. Attorney, announced the guilty plea and said it “marks another important step in our ongoing effort to root out corruption in international soccer.”
“The defendant abused the trust placed in him as a soccer official in order to line his own pockets. 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.”
According to the criminal information to which Lai pleaded guilty, he received $100,000 in bribes in 2011 from an official of the AFC who was then running for the FIFA presidency, in exchange for Lai’s vote and support in the then-upcoming FIFA presidential election.
Mohamed bin Hammam, the AFC president who was running against Sepp Blatter in that FIFA election, has since been banned for life from soccer.
Lai also pleaded guilty to receiving more than $850,000 in bribes between 2009 and 2014 from a faction of soccer officials in the Asian region in exchange for using his influence as a soccer official to advance the interests of the faction that bribed him, including by helping officials in that faction identify other officials to offer bribes.
More than 40 people and marketing agencies have been indicted or pleaded guilty in the U.S. investigation of corruption linked to FIFA.
FIFA and the FIFA Ethics Committee did not immediately respond to requests from The Associated Press for comment.
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