Fifa and the International Olympic Committee were plunged into fresh corruption and ethics crises on Friday night after a dramatic day on both sides of the Atlantic.
One of the most powerful men in world sport, Sheikh Ahmad Al-Fahad Al-Ahmad Al-Sabah, was apparently identified by the United States Department of Justice as a co-conspirator in an alleged $1 million bribery scam. The DOJ orchestrated the 2015 dawn raids and indictments that threatened Fifa’s very existence.
That was followed by a report in German newspaper Der Spiegel that Fifa president Gianni Infantino was the subject of another preliminary investigation by the governing body’s ethics committee into whether he had a prohibited influence on last month’s Confederation of African Football presidential election.
The news comes four weeks after Fifa announced the end of a 22-month internal investigation into sport’s biggest corruption scandal, one that brought down Sepp Blatter.
A reminder the criminal authorities were far from done with the governing body and its ousted president arrived on Thursday when the French financial prosecutors’ office announced it had joined the DOJ and the office of the Attorney General of Switzerland in launching an investigation into the award of the next two World Cups and had interviewed the 81-year-old.
That was followed by news from New York that a member of Fifa’s financial watchdog had pleaded guilty to taking around $1 million (£771,545) in bribes both from disgraced former Fifa presidential candidate Mohamed Bin Hammam and a member of the Kuwait Football Association and Olympic Council of Asia.
Richard Lai, a US citizen, president of the Guam Football Association, former Asian Football Confederation executive committee member, and a member of Fifa’s audit and compliance committee, was also suspended yesterday from all football-related activity for 90 days.
The indictment against him proved to be explosive after it named among his co-conspirators someone who was “at various times” a “high-ranking official of Fifa, the Kuwait Football Association (KFA), and the Olympic Council of Asia (OCA)”.
That could only be Sheikh Ahmad, who is a member of both Fifa’s ruling council and the president of the OCA. He is also a member of the IOC and was in 2013 widely credited with helping Thomas Bach secure election as its president.
He is close as well to Infantino, who is said by Der Spiegel to be facing his second preliminary ethics investigation since succeeding Blatter as president just over a year ago. The 47-year-old, who was cleared in August following a probe into flights he had taken and his failure to sign an employment contract, was recently accused of attempting to influence last month’s CAF presidential election, something he denied. The contest resulted in the shock dethroning of former acting Fifa president Issa Hayatou, who had been head of African football since 1989, by Ahmad Ahmad from Madagascar. Ahmad has since been accused of also receiving money from Bin Hammam, although he denies any wrongdoing.
Lai, meanwhile, admitted in court taking $100,000 (£77,155) from the Qatari to support the latter against Blatter during Fifa’s 2011 presidential election. The 55-year-old also confessed to receiving more than $850,000 (£655,818) in bribes between 2009 and 2014 from a member of KFA “to use his influence to advance the interests of the Kuwaiti official, including helping the Kuwaiti official identify other members of the Asian Football Confederation to whom they could offer bribes”.
Lai pleaded guilty to two counts of wire fraud conspiracy and one of failing to disclose foreign bank accounts, agreeing to pay $1.1 million (£849,310) in fines and forfeiture. He was the second member of Fifa’s audit and compliance committee facing conviction for corruption after Canover Watson, of the Cayman Islands, was jailed for seven years in February 2016.