CLEAN BILL OF HEALTH

Guam FA dis­tance them­selves from bribe scan­dal

New Straits Times - - Sport -

THE Guam FA (GFA) say they have been cleared of any wrong­do­ing after their 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 US$1 mil­lion (RM4.5 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 power­bro­kers, im­pli­cat­ing Kuwait’s Sheikh Ah­mad alFa­had 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 their mis­sion to pro­vide global op­por­tu­ni­ties for the lo­cal com­mu­nity through the sport of foot­ball,” they said in a state­ment late on 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 have been cleared of any fi­nan­cial mis­man­age­ment,” they said.

They 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.

They 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,” they 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 US$1.1 mil­lion in fines and for­fei­ture.

Fifa have 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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