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FIFA audit official pleads guilty to corruption charges, gets suspended

Jaclyn Jaeger | April 28, 2017

Richard Lai, a member of FIFA’s audit and compliance committee, pleaded guilty yesterday to charges of wire fraud conspiracy for his participation in multiple schemes to accept and pay bribes to soccer officials.

Lai also pleaded guilty to one count of 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 Chen in Brooklyn, New York.

In a statement, Acting U.S. Attorney Bridget Rohde said the plea marks another important step in the Department of Justice’s ongoing effort to root out corruption in international soccer. “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,” she said.

Lai served as the president of the Guam Football Association (GFA) since 2001. In that capacity, Lai had a vote in FIFA presidential elections. Lai has also served at various times as a member and chair of the Asian Football Confederation (AFC) finance committee and a member of the AFC executive committee, and is currently a member of the AFC marketing committee and the FIFA audit and compliance committee.  

Lai pleaded guilty to a scheme in which 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. He also pleaded guilty to a scheme in which he received over $850,000 in bribes between 2009 and 2014 from a faction of soccer officials in the AFC region. 

Lai received those bribes 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 in the AFC to whom they should offer bribes. The goal of this scheme was for the faction to gain control of the AFC and influence FIFA. 

Following Lai’s guilty plea, FIFA’s ethics committee announced that they have banned Lai for a duration of 90 days from all football activities at both the national and international level. The ban comes into force immediately.

Additionally, FIFA’s ethics committee on April 21 announced that it has banned Eduardo Li, former president of the Costa Rican Football Association and a former member of the CONCACAF executive committee, for life from all football-related activities—administrative, sports, or any other—at both national and international level.

The investigation against Li was opened in May 2015 and conducted by Cornel Borbély, chairman of the investigatory chamber of the ethics committee, following a press release from the Department of Justice on the same day. In October 2016, Li pleaded guilty to one count of racketeering conspiracy, one count of wire fraud, and one count of wire fraud conspiracy.

“His guilty plea related, amongst others, to two schemes by means of which he asked for and received bribes from sports marketing companies in relation to the awarding of marketing rights for FIFA World Cup qualifiers in the UNCAF region, and for agreeing to the Costa Rican national team taking part in UNCAF region friendlies,” FIFA stated.

The adjudicatory chamber found Li guilty of having violated Article 13 (general rules of conduct); Article 15 (Loyalty); Article 18 (duty of disclosure, cooperation and reporting); Article 19 (conflicts of interest); and Article 21 (bribery and corruption) of the FIFA Code of Ethics.