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Fifa Council member Sheikh Al-Sabah denies wrongdoing but resigns

Sheikh Ahmad al-Fahad al-Sabah has resigned from all his football positions, including the Fifa Council, after the latest wave of corruption allegations in the sport.

The release of court documents in the wake of the Asian Football Confederation official Richard Lai pleading guilty to bribery led to Ahmad being implicated. He was not named, but papers referred to someone who at “various times was a high-ranking official of Fifa, the Kuwait Football Association and the Olympic Council of Asia”.

Ahmad denies any wrongdoing but has released a statement announcing he is stepping down from his various positions within the sport.

“With regards to alleged illegal payments to Richard Lai, I can only refer to my previous statement and vigorously deny any wrongdoing,” he said. “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 for me to withdraw my candidacy for the Fifa Council and resign from my current football positions.

“I have been honoured to serve on the Fifa Council, Fifa Reform Committee and AFC for the last two years and I will continue to support the family of football once these allegations have been disproved.”

Ahmad remains a real powerbroker within Olympic circles. He heads up the Olympic Council of Asia and has done since 1991, while he was instrumental in Thomas Bach and Gianni Infantino’s IOC and Fifa presidential campaigns.

Lai, a senior figure at the AFC, was suspended by Fifa for 90 days on Friday after he pleaded guilty in a New York court to giving and taking bribes. Lai admitted taking more than £735,000 in bribes. The AFC also placed a provisional suspension on him.

Lai’s case is particularly significant as it represents the first time the US-led investigation into football-related corruption has extended beyond the Americas. It is also the Department of Justice’s first new guilty plea for a year, which suggests the inquiry is not being wound down just yet, as some close observers have speculated.

But most important of all are the details of Lai’s case as they clearly implicate the former Fifa vice-president and AFC president Mohamed Bin Hammam. The Qatari was banned for life by Fifa in 2011 for allegedly trying to bribe members of the Caribbean Football Union to vote for him against the incumbent, Sepp Blatter, in the upcoming Fifa presidential elections.

With Bin Hammam out of the frame, Blatter would eventually win a fourth term unopposed. The Qatari would overturn that life ban at the Court of Arbitration for Sport in 2012, only to receive another Fifa life ban for AFC-related corruption.

Lai pleaded guilty to receiving $100,000 from an individual the DoJ described as “an official of the AFC who was then running for the Fifa presidency” in exchange for his vote.

The DoJ statement continues by saying Lai also received over $850,000 between 2009 and 2014 from a “faction of soccer officials in the AFC region” for his support.

The acting US attorney for the Eastern District of New York, William F Sweeney Jr, said: “Today’s plea marks another important step in our ongoing effort to root out corruption in international soccer.

“The defendant abused the trust placed in him as a soccer official in order to line his own pockets, and now he will be held to account.

“The defendant’s breach of trust was particularly significant given his position as a member of the Fifa audit and compliance committee, which must play an important and independent role if corruption within Fifa is to be eliminated.”

In total, the US investigation has led to more than 40 football officials and businessmen being charged, with 21 now pleading guilty and paying huge fines. Lai, for example, agreed to forfeit $1.1m (£850,000).