FIFA’s reputation was dealt another blow as it emerged president Gianno Infantino faces a criminal inquiry into a secret meetings he held with the Swiss lawyer in charge of investigating corruption after Sepp Blatter’s departure.
Swiss special prosecutor Stefan Keller has concluded there is enough evidence to take the case to court after investigating the circumstances of Infantino’s clandestine meeting with Swiss attorney general Michael Lauber, who was heading an investigation into the 2015 corruption scandal which left FIFA’s credibility in tatters.
Last Friday, the supervisory body that oversees Lauber’s office ruled the meeting ‘seriously violated his official and legal duties,’ prompting the lawyer to stand down from his post.
But the Swiss Government has now confirmed that Keller is pursuing a criminal inquiry into Infantino as well. Keller has uncovered ‘elements that make up reprehensible behaviour,’ according to a statement from the Swiss authority overseeing the federal prosecutors office.
An internal disciplinary case against Lauber identified a meeting he had with Infantino in June 2017 at a hotel in Bern, at which the prosecutor took no notes. Both men later insisted they could not recall their discussion at what was their third meeting in a 15-month period.
Keller has already found that possible offences could include abuse of public office by Lauber, breach of official secrecy, ‘assisting offenders’ and ‘incitement to these acts’. The supervisory authority said other criminal acts and proceedings could also be considered.
Infantino’s involvement in FIFA’s attempts to restore credibility after Blatter has been called into question before. In 2017, the president ensured that the chairmen of the organisation’s investigatory and judicial committees — Hans-Joachim Eckert and Cornel Borbély — were removed from their posts.
Both men had wanted to serve another four-year term to complete their work investigating hundreds of cases. The move was seen in part as a response to a FIFA ethics committee decision to investigate Infantino, the previous year.
Swiss-Italian businessman Domenico Scala also left his role as FIFA audit and compliance committee chairman in 2016, in protest at what he said was Infantino’s attempts to curtail his independence.
Infantino, 50, found an unexpected route to the presidency of FIFA after Blatter’s resignation was followed by the suspension of Michel Platini, the favourite to succeed him.
When questioned in 2017 about the removal of those within the organisation who have asked difficult questions, he said: ‘Sadly, the truth is not what is necessarily true but what people believe is true. There is a lot of fake news and alternative facts about FIFA circulating.. FIFA-bashing has become a national sport in some countries.’