Guam FA distances itself from bribe scandal

Fifa.(Getty Images)
Fifa.(Getty Images)

Hagatna - The Guam Football Association (GFA) says it has been cleared of any wrongdoing after its president admitted taking bribes, pledging to continue growing the game in the tiny Pacific island territory.

Richard Lai pleaded guilty in a New York court last week to accepting almost $1 million in kickbacks, becoming the latest scalp in a massive US corruption probe targeting world governing body FIFA.

His downfall has affected the game's top power-brokers, implicating Kuwait's Sheikh Ahmad al-Fahad al-Sabah, who denies any misconduct but has resigned from the FIFA Council as he fights to clear his name.

The GFA said Lai, 55, had quit as president effective immediately and his deputy Pascual Artero would take over.

"The swift, voluntary resignation from the GFA presidency allows the organisation to move on undistracted from its mission to provide global opportunities for the local community through the sport of football," it said in a statement late Tuesday.

It added: "The change in GFA leadership will have no immediate effect on ongoing projects, events, and activities."

GFA said Lai was charged as an individual and the organisation had been given a clean financial bill of health.

"Through several external audits, including an audit done by the Internal Revenue Service at the request of the US Attorney's Office, GFA has been cleared of any financial mismanagement," it said.

It also launched an extraordinary defence of Lai's legacy after 16 years leading the GFA, even though his tenure ended in disgrace.

Half the GFA's eight-paragraph statement was devoted to praising the corrupt administrator for presiding over an improvement in the national team's playing standards and construction of new facilities.

It said infrastructure improvements were "made possible by Lai's networking at the international level" but also hinted that such schmoozing led to his downfall.

"Lai allegedly became personally involved in the ongoing dealings by larger international organisations, which led to the investigation by the US Attorney's Office," it said.

Lai rose from obscure beginnings on Guam - which has a population of just 170 000 - to become a member of the Asian Football Confederation's (AFC) Executive Committee.

He was also appointed to the powerful FIFA Audit and Compliance Committee, which oversees administration of the governing body's lucrative accounts.

Lai admitted that from 2009-14 he took bribes from football officials wanting his help to influence FIFA and gain control of the AFC.

The US citizen has agreed to pay $1.1 million in fines and forfeiture.

FIFA has also banned him from all football activity for 90 days and he has been suspended by the AFC.

The US investigation has seen federal prosecutors indict around 40 football and sports marketing executives with allegedly receiving tens of millions of dollars in bribes and kickbacks.

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