By Simon Evans
(Reuters) – Sheikh Ahmad Al-Fahad Al-Ahmed Al-Sabah, the FIFA Council member who also runs the Olympic Council of Asia (OCA), said on Sunday he was resigning all his posts in football after being drawn into the latest bribery scandal to hit the game’s governing body.
The Kuwaiti issued a statement on Saturday “strongly” denying any wrongdoing. His comments came after U.S. Court documents made reference to a Kuwaiti OCA official as being involved in the bribery case of FIFA’s audit and compliance committee member, Richard Lai.
Lai, also president of the Guam Football Association (GFA), pleaded guilty on Thursday to wire fraud conspiracy charges before U.S. District Judge Pamela Chen in Brooklyn, according to U.S. prosecutors, who said he had taken close to $1 million in bribes.
“With regards to alleged illegal payments to Richard Lai, I can only refer to my previous statement and vigorously deny any wrongdoing,” Sheikh Ahmad said in a statement released by the OCA on Sunday.
“I intend to work with all relevant authorities to disprove these for me totally surprising allegations.
“However, I do not want these allegations to create divisions or distract attention from the upcoming AFC and FIFA Congresses.
“Therefore, after careful consideration, I have decided it is in the best interests of FIFA and the AFC (Asian Football Confederation), for me to withdraw my candidacy for the FIFA Council and resign from my current football positions.”
The FIFA Council replaced the largely discredited Executive Committee as FIFA’s decision-making body under reforms instituted in the wake of the 2015 corruption scandal.
The AFC will elect four members, one a woman, to the FIFA Council at a congress in Bahrain in May.
FIFA president Gianni Infantino thanked Sheikh Ahmad for standing down from the body.
“I have taken note of the decision of Sheikh Ahmad Al-Fahad Al Sabah. I want to thank him for taking this decision which certainly was not easy to take but is in the best interest for FIFA,” Infantino said in a statement.
Sheikh Ahmad served on FIFA’s Reform Committee as well as the FIFA Council but he is primarily known as a key powerbroker in the Olympic movement.
As well as heading the OCA, he is president of the Association of National Olympic Committees (ANOC) and a member of the International Olympic Committee (IOC).
According to a statement from the Eastern District of New York of the U.S. Attorney’s office, Lai, who is also a U.S national, pleaded guilty to receiving bribes from what the statement called “a faction of soccer officials in the AFC region.”
Lai helped “officials in that faction identify other officials in the AFC to whom they should offer bribes. The goal of this scheme was for the faction to gain control of the AFC and influence FIFA,” said the statement.
Court documents list four un-named co-conspirators in the case.
(Reporting by Nick Mulvenney and Simon Evans, editing by Pritha Sarkar)