GENEVA. — Criminal proceedings launched against FIFA president, Gianni Infantino, in Switzerland are yet another reputational hit on the world football governing body.
A special prosecutor appointed to look into undocumented meetings between Infantino and Swiss attorney general, Michael Lauber, yesterday launched criminal proceedings against the head of world football.
He also requested approval to open proceedings against Lauber, Swiss authorities announced yesterday.
FIFA acknowledged the decision of the Swiss Special Federal Public Prosecutor in opening the investigation and said it would cooperate fully.
“As President of FIFA, it has been my aim from day one, and it remains my aim, to assist the authorities with investigating past wrongdoings at FIFA,” Infantino said yesterday.
“FIFA officials have met with prosecutors in other jurisdictions across the world for exactly these purposes. People have been convicted and sentenced, thanks to FIFA’s cooperation, and especially in the United States of America, where our co-operation has resulted in over 40 criminal convictions.
“Therefore, I remain fully supportive of the judicial process, and FIFA remains willing to fully cooperate with the Swiss authorities for these purposes.”
Stefan Keller, who was appointed as “extraordinary prosecutor” on June 29 2020 to review criminal complaints against the two men, has found indications of criminal conduct relating to the meetings.
Infantino, who has been in charge of FIFA since February 2016, has denied any wrongdoing.
Lauber, who has been Attorney General since 2012, offered to resign last week after a Swiss Federal court concluded he covered up a behind closed-doors meeting with Infantino in June 2017 and lied to supervisors while his office investigated corruption surrounding world football’s governing body.
The 54-year-old Lauber has denied lying and officially tendered his resignation on Tuesday.
The 50-year-old Infantino was re-elected for a second term as president of football’s international governing body in June 2019 having run unopposed.
“Infantino was supposed to be the man to clean up world football’s governing body and now he is the subject of open proceedings commenced by a Swiss prosecutor who claims there is an indication of criminality,’’ said Martha Kelner, the Sky Sports correspondent.
“We know that this likely relates to a secret meeting in 2017 between Infantino and the Swiss attorney general, Michael Lauber, the very man instructed to investigate the corruption at FIFA.
“We have little more detail than that, and Infantino will cling to a presumption of innocence but FIFA’s ethics committee is likely to face calls to suspend Infantino pending the outcome of the investigation.
“They’re unlikely to take that step just yet, but you can comfortably assume that if this case reaches court the Swiss Italian’s position as the most senior individual in world football is under threat.
“FIFA’s reputation will be dragged through the mire once more.’’
It has been a rocky period for FIFA with former Liberian football chief, Musa Bility, entering the integrity debate again with a hard-hitting letter to the chair of the African Union, and the secretary general of the United Nations, imploring them to “intervene and reform FIFA and organisations such as CAF”.
Bility, a former CAF executive committee member and president of the Liberian FA, accuses FIFA and CAF of allegedly running a “systematic dismantling of African and world football interests by corruption.”
“Absolute power has corrupted these organisations absolutely.”
Bility is serving a 10-year ban by FIFA, which he is challenging.
In his letter to the AU and UN, Bility paints a picture of FIFA’s authoritarian rule of Africa where constant threats from the world football governing body, to suspend national associations whose governments involve themselves in their football’s administration “have hamstrung individual UN and AU member Government efforts to bring much needed oversight and accountability to this most popular sport in those countries.
“Conversely, the same governments are compelled to spend millions of dollars annually to fund football activities, a cyclic investment that has no discernible return on investment.”
He describes the relationship between FIFA and governments as “dysfunctional, abusive, exploitative and dangerously lopsided”.
Bility pointed to the forensic accounting report by PricewaterhouseCoopers which found more than US$24 million of member funds “embezzled” by a “small cabal of the organisations officials”, and that FIFA Ethics have still failed to act.
In contrast, in what he says illustrates the selective nature of FIFA ethics investigations, he highlighted the recent FIFA ruling against Guinea-Bissau Football Association president, Manuel Nascimento, who was banned for 10 years.
The ban was imposed just a day before presidential elections he was expected to win.
Bility claimed Nacimento was banned “for his role in protecting the victim of a mob lynching in his home country. The matter had been reviewed and dispensed with by local judiciary who found him inculpable of any criminal offense.
“Unfortunately, for Mr Nascimento, he has been vocal over the last four years about the open theft of member funds at CAF and was, therefore, viewed as hostile to the current CAF leadership.”
In Africa, Bility said, at least 15 governments “have been threatened by FIFA for actively wanting to protect the football aspirations of their people by opening investigations, or criminal proceedings, against football officials.”
This is against a backdrop of elected football officials who trade their political votes, for immunity from FIFA Ethics committee sanction, as they collect and misappropriate millions of dollars of FIFA grants, knowing they have the protection from the world football governing body.
“FIFA has shown no compunction exploiting the footballing human, and infrastructure resources, of these same countries that it regularly threatens, resources that have been developed painstakingly through heavy taxation of citizens, massive debt, wars, and struggles for independence,” said Bility.
Meanwhile, FIFA’s ground-breaking Covid-19 Relief Plan reached a major milestone as the Bureau of the FIFA Council approved the plan’s regulations.
“Under the terms of the Covid-19 Relief Plan, US$1.5 billion is being made available to support all 211 FIFA member associations and the six confederations to assist in the alleviation of the financial impact of the COVID-19 pandemic,’’ FIFA said in a statement.
“The plan was originally drawn up by the FIFA administration in close cooperation with the confederations, and subsequently approved by the FIFA Council on 25 June 2020.
“The regulations establish strict compliance and audit requirements, as well as clear loan repayment conditions, under the supervision of a steering committee.
“A universal solidarity grant of US$1 million is being made available to all FIFA member associations, and an additional grant of US$500 000 is being allocated specifically to women’s football.
“In addition, a grant of US$2 million is being made available to each confederation. The full amount will be made available by January 2021.’’ — CNN/Sky Sports/insideworldfootball.com