FIFA Issues Life Bans to 3 Ex-Officials for Corruption

Rafael Esquivel, former president of the Venezuelan soccer federation, (R)  and Julio Rocha, former president of Nicaragua football associationRafael Esquivel, former president of the Venezuelan soccer federation, (R)  and Julio Rocha, former president of Nicaragua football association

FIFA has dished out life bans to the former presidents of the Guam, Nicaraguan and Venezuelan football associations for corruption, its ethics committee has announced.

An investigation into ex-Guam FA boss Richard Lai, a former Asian Football Confederation (AFC) official and FIFA committee member, was opened this April when he pleaded guilty to fraud in the US, reported.

Lai’s case is significant for two reasons: one, it represents the first time the US-led investigation into football-related corruption has extended beyond the Americas; and two, because it implicates one of the most powerful men in sports politics, Sheikh Ahmad Al-Fahad Al-Sabah of Kuwait.

Sheikh Ahmad was not explicitly named in the Department of Justice case against Lai but the court papers clearly referred to him as the source of bribes paid to the Guam FA boss in return for support in AFC and FIFA elections. Sheikh Ahmad denies any wrongdoing.

The Kuwaiti resigned from his football positions - including a seat on the FIFA Council - a few days after Lai’s plea but he is still a major player in Olympic circles and was instrumental in getting Thomas Bach and Gianni Infantino elected as presidents of the International Olympic Committee and FIFA respectively.

  Paid Off-Books

A government witness in the US corruption trial related to soccer world-governing body FIFA testified on Monday about millions of dollars paid to former soccer officials in exchange for broadcasting and sponsorship rights for international tournaments, all logged in a secret spreadsheet.

The witness, Santiago Pena, said he was a financial manager at the Argentina-headquartered sports marketing firm Full Play from 2009 to 2015 and kept an Excel file which he presented in court. It detailed payments made to what he said were eight soccer officials from the South American soccer governing body CONMEBOL.

Each of the officials was given a code name in the spreadsheet of different car brands, Pena testified in Brooklyn federal court, Reuters reported.

‘Honda’ was Juan Angel Napout, former president of Paraguay’s soccer federation, and ‘Fiat’ was Manuel Burga, former president of Peru’s soccer federation, Pena said. The two men are among the defendants in the trial, along with Jose Maria Marin, former president of Brazil’s soccer federation. All three have pleaded not guilty.

Pena said the payments were kept off the books of the company and were paid out over time, to “get influence and get loyalty from the presidents.”

The payments included cash, wire transfers and, in the case of Napout, Paul McCartney tickets and a rental house in Uruguay worth tens of thousands of dollars, Pena said.

  Venezuela & Nicaragua

They also included a commitment of $750,000 to former president of the Venezuelan soccer federation Rafael Esquivel, code-named ‘Benz,’ for ‘Q2022.’ Pena said that stood for the 2022 World Cup tournament in Qatar, but that he did not know the purpose of those payments. Esquivel has pleaded guilty to US corruption charges.

He said he was instructed about the amounts and details of the payments by his bosses - the owners of Full Play, Argentine nationals Hugo Jinkis and his son Mariano. The two are among the 42 people and entities charged by the US in the probe.

Ex-Nicaraguan FA president Julio Rocha has also been banned from all football-related activities for life.

The ethics committee investigations into Esquivel and Rocha started in May 2015 when they pleaded guilty to fraud charges in the US, related to the awarding of broadcasting and marketing contracts.

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