FIFA: Swiss probe into Gianni Infantino 'grotesque' and 'absurd'

In a video press conference with reporters on Monday, FIFA Deputy Secretary General Alasdair Bell called the Swiss criminal investigation of the soccer body’s president, Gianni Infantino, “grotesque” and “absurd.”

At the end of July, Swiss prosecutors stated there were “indications of criminal conduct” in undocumented meetings between Infantino and Swiss Attorney General Michael Lauber, who will leave his post next month.

Read more: Gianni Infantino FIFA investigation: Five big questions

“There is no factual basis whatsoever for this criminal investigation,” Bell said. “There is nothing serious to investigate.”

Bell insisted Infantino had “absolutely nothing to hide” and that his legal team has “no idea what the FIFA President has done wrong.” Bell added that FIFA attorneys were “still trying to understand what’s behind it.”

“There is no description of criminal conduct of any kind that has been communicated to FIFA. There is something a little grotesque and unfair in all this because we are 100 percent confident there will never be a criminal charge against the FIFA president,” he added.

In a statement released following the opening of the investigation last Thursday, Infantino insisted that meeting Lauber is “perfectly legitimate and it’s perfectly legal.” FIFA also said it would cooperate fully with the investigation.

dv/jh (AP, Reuters)

Gianni Infantino FIFA investigation: The five big questions

The criminal investigation by Swiss prosecutors into FIFA president Gianni Infantino is the latest example of football’s world governing body being engulfed in claims of corruption.

Charges of “rampant, systemic, deep-rooted” corruption claimed the careers of several high-level officials in 2015, including former long-standing president Sepp Blatter. The man charged with restoring FIFA’s reputation whilst investigations were ongoing in the US and Switzerland was Infantino.

However, the man elected at the 2016 FIFA Extraordinary Congress and re-elected in June 2019, now finds himself the subject of a criminal investigation being led by Swiss federal prosecutor, Stefan Keller.

Why is FIFA president Gianni Infantino being investigated?

Keller announced on Thursday that there were “indications of criminal conduct” in undocumented meetings between Infantino and Swiss Attorney General Michael Lauber, who will leave his post next month.

The three meetings, that are alleged to have taken place between 2015 and 2016, are significant as Lauber was, at the time, overseeing an investigation into the 2015 corruption scandal that led to criminal indictments against a number of FIFA officials.

Infantino insists those meetings were an above-board attempt to aid investigations.

“People remember well where FIFA was as an institution back in 2015, and how substantial judicial intervention was actually required to help restore the credibility of the organisation,” Infantino said in an official statement released by FIFA.

Sepp Blatter is questioned by reporters in Moscow (Getty Images/AFP/V. Maximov)

Infantino’s predecessor Sepp Blatter was forced out of office

“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.”

What is Infantino being accused of?

Infantino is being investigated on the grounds of “abuse of public office, breach of official secrecy, assisting offenders and incitement to break the law”.

This is not the first time Infantino has faced accusations like these, which first broke in 2017 due to emails uncovered by Football Leaks which documented three meetings in the space of 15 months. Infantino and Lauber both claim they can’t remember what took place during those encounters.

The latest probe is a result of anonymous criminal complaints that led to Keller being appointed as the federal prosecutor in July. Infantino has described the complaints as “quite absurd”.

Why does this matter?

FIFA are world football’s governing body, in charge of huge sums of money and the most-watched sporting event on the globe, the World Cup. Its reputation was tarnished in 2015 amid money laundering claims and questions regarding the legitimacy of awarding the 2018 and 2022 World Cup to Russia and Qatar respectively.

Even though they brought in Infantino to clean up their act, they are still struggling to get out from under the cloud of corruption cast over them by the end of Blatter’s reign.

Infantino is claiming to be the good guy by saying “there is nothing secret in meeting a prosecutor in a civilized country”, but the ongoing investigations are threatening to further discredit the transparency and trust in FIFA.

Why is Gianni Infantino still President of FIFA?

Because FIFA aren’t run like a normal company or governing body. It took years of serious allegations relating to criminal schemes, bribes and kickbacks before Sepp Blatter was even suspended as the governing body’s president.

Blatter claimed he could only be stripped of his title by a vote including all the member nations. Unprecedented times called for unprecedented measures though, and it was ultimately the FIFA ethics committee that banned Blatter from all football related activities for eight years.

While FIFA have released a statement of support for Infantino in the wake of the probe, there was no word as to whether action would be taken by the same committee this time around. Infantino, meanwhile, says he remains “fully supportive of the judicial process.”

What happens now?

While it has been noted that the pace of proceedings to bring charges against Infantino has been swifter than for his predecessor Blatter, it is unlikely that the case will go to criminal court or that there will be a conviction.

FIFA have insisted they are still willing to “fully cooperate” with the Swiss authorities on the matter, claiming that their cooperation in the past has led to “40 criminal convictions”. They will be hoping number 41 doesn’t involve their reigning president.

Infantino’s claims that FIFA’s days of corruption are behind them have been undermined by Keller’s criminal investigation against the FIFA president. The 2022 FIFA World Cup in Qatar is under no threat, but the waters at world football’s governing body are as murky as ever.


Switzerland launches investigation against FIFA President Gianni Infantino

FIFA chairman Gianni Infantino faces charges over his dealings with Swiss Attorney General Michael Lauber, authorities said on Thursday. Swiss prosecutors have previously found indications of criminal conduct related to the meetings between the two men.

Last week, Lauber offered his resignation after a court found that, while Lauber’s office was investigating FIFA-related corruption, the prosecutor had tried to hide a meeting with the FIFA head and lied to his supervisors in the Swiss judiciary.

Lauber is now set to leave his post at the end of August.

Lauber and Infantino allegedly met in secret three times in 2016 and and 2017. Both of the men have denied any wrongdoing. In April, FIFA slammed the accusations as “deliberately misleading and malicious.”

Infantino, a lawyer by training, took over world football’s governing body in 2016 in the aftermath of his Swiss predecessor Sepp Blatter’s ignominious exit. Blatter resigned amid allegations of corruption tied to payments made to his presumed successor, then-UEFA President Michel Platini.

Infantino was charged with cleaning up the organization, while Lauber was tasked with investigating it.

More to follow…