November 21 – For the first time since they took over in May, FIFA’s new ethics watchdogs have bared their teeth by banning three leading officials for life.
The trio are Richard Lai, former Guam Football Association president and a former member of the FIFA audit and compliance committee; Julio Rocha, former Nicaraguan Football Association president and a former FIFA development officer; and Rafael Esquivel, one-time Venezuelan Football Association president.
All three are caught up in the FIFAGate corruption scandal and have pleaded guilty in the United States to charges ranging from wire fraud to racketeering and money laundering.
Lai was still an active member of the Asian Football Confederation until he pleaded guilty to two charges of wire fraud conspiracy and revealed that he had received nearly $1 million in bribes. It was the first time the investigation into sustained malpractice had spread to Asia, though Guam is a US territory.
In addition to being a member of the very FIFA body that was supposed to be all about good governance and weeding out the miscreants, Lai was the AFC’s marketing chief and a member of its executive committee.
Rocha pleaded guilty to racketeering conspiracy and wire fraud conspiracy in April, with authorities claiming that he negotiated and accepted more than $150,000 in bribes linked to the sale of marketing rights. Having been president of the Nicaraguan Football Federation from 1998 to 2012, he then took up a role as FIFA development officer until his arrest in May 2015 as part of the infamous dawn raids in downtown Zurich.
Esquivel has pleaded guilty to racketeering conspiracy, wire fraud conspiracy and money laundering conspiracy. He was also vice-president of Conmebol.
In a statement, FIFA said: “The Adjudicatory Chamber found Mr Lai, Mr Rocha and Mr Esquivel guilty of having violated article 21 (bribery and corruption) of the FIFA Code of Ethics,” the Adjudicatory Chamber said in a statement.
“As a consequence, the officials are banned for life from all football-related activities (administrative, sports or any other) at national and international level.
“Additionally, appropriate fines in relation to the amounts of the bribes that they have admitted having taken have been imposed on the officials.”
At the time he pleaded guilty, Lai also implicated Asian sports powerbroker Sheikh Ahmad Al-Fahad Al-Sabah, president of the Association of National Olympic Committees and the head of the Olympic Council of Asia.
Ahmad, who was seeking re-election to the FIFA Council, at first vigorously denied any wrongdoing after US court documents listed four un-named co-conspirators in the case of Lai. But he later resigned from all of his footballing roles including the FIFA Council, the FIFA Reform Committee and the AFC Executive Committee.
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