KUALA LUMPUR, Malaysia (AP) — A new investigation into claims that Kuwaiti leaders of the Olympic Council of Asia bribed the region’s soccer officials has been opened by the Asian Football Confederation.
The AFC announced the internal probe Wednesday in fallout from the U.S. Department of Justice’s sprawling investigation of corruption in international soccer. It could identify leaders of AFC member federations suspected of taking bribes.
The investigation would look at “the circumstances surrounding the prosecution of former Guam Football Association President Richard Lai,” the AFC said in a statement.
Although Lai was also a member of the FIFA audit committee, a bigger target of the American case could be longtime Olympic powerbroker Sheikh Ahmad al-Fahad al-Sabah of Kuwait.
Lai was an influential AFC executive committee member until last month when he pleaded guilty to charges including wire fraud conspiracy in a Brooklyn federal court.
Lai admitted to receiving more than $850,000 from Kuwait between 2009 and 2014, including from OCA accounts. He said he helped recruit Asian soccer officials who he understood would be offered bribes.
The American citizen is awaiting sentence and agreed to pay more than $1.1 million in penalties.
The AFC, which already suspended Lai, is “duty bound to investigate,” newly elected head of integrity Mohammad Ali Al Kamali said. “The allegations contained in Richard Lai’s indictment are, if substantiated, extremely serious.”.
Sheikh Ahmad, president of the OCA and the global group of national Olympic bodies known as ANOC, was identified as “co-conspirator 2” in documents published by the Department of Justice and from the Brooklyn court.
The sheikh denied wrongdoing but resigned his FIFA Council seat representing Asia one week ahead of his expected re-election. He also contacted the ethics committees of FIFA and the IOC, where he has been a member for 25 years.
Co-conspirator 3 was identified as OCA director general Husain al Musallam of Kuwait, who is also senior vice president of world swimming body FINA.
Another unnamed official, co-conspirator 4, was “at various times” an OCA employee and assistant to Al Musallam, the Department of Justice document said.