Football: Guam chief pleads guilty in FIFA scandal
New York (AFP) – The US prosecution of the massive corruption scandal rocking world soccer scalped a new head on Thursday: the football chief on the tiny Pacific island of Guam.
Richard Lai, a 55-year-old US citizen, pleaded guilty Thursday in a federal court in New York to accepting nearly $1 million in bribes from 2009-2014, US prosecutors announced.
He pleaded guilty to two counts of wire fraud conspiracy and one count of failing to disclose foreign bank accounts, and agreed to pay $1.1 million in fines and forfeiture.
The massive US investigation, which was first unveiled in May 2015, has seen federal prosecutors in New York indict around 40 football and sports marketing executives with allegedly receiving tens of millions of bribes and kickbacks.
It is the largest corruption scandal in the history of soccer and precipitated the downfall of longtime FIFA president Sepp Blatter and his former heir apparent, Michel Platini.
US prosecutors said Lai has been president of the Guam Football Association, on the tiny US territory in the Pacific since 2001, and is currently on the FIFA Audit and Compliance Committee.
He admitted to receiving $100,000 in bribes from an official in the Asian Football Confederation (AFC) in 2011 in exchange for voting for him for FIFA president.
He also pleaded guilty to receiving more than $850,000 in bribes between 2009 and 2014 from a faction of soccer officials wanting his help to influence FIFA and gain control of the AFC.
Palm-fringed Guam has a population of just 170,000.
“Today’s plea marks another important step in our ongoing effort to root out corruption in international soccer,” said Bridget Rohde, acting US attorney for the eastern district of New York.
Many of those indicted in the ongoing investigation have pleaded guilty and agreed to cooperate with prosecutors in exchange for possible leniency.
A November 6 trial is scheduled to begin November 6 for five defendants currently in the United States who continue to plead innocent.