KEIR RADNEDGE REPORTS: FIFA president Gianni Infantino has been cleared by the ethics committee of allegations concerning flight and expenses since his election in place of disgraced Sepp Blatter back in February.

A full statement from the ethics committee indicated the lengths to which it had gone to investigate the allegations because of the crisis-laden potential to topple a second president inside a year. Blatter was banned last December for financial misconduct in office.

Speculation and rumour concerning Infantino erupted early in June with a string of antagonistic leaks to the German and Swiss media.

Gianni Infantino . . . an answer, maybe, to his prayers

Infantino’s credibility and authority to lead FIFA has been compromised because of a failure to agree his remuneration contract. This created uncertainty over his personal expenditure in office which was criticised by up to four whistleblowers in complaints to the ethics chamber.

The 46-year-old Swiss lawyer had created waves within FIFA by the speed and energy with which he set about redesigning the organisation’s structure and his ‘kitchen cabinet.’

Functions separation

This included a logical and long-overdue split of functions between administration and competitions sectors plus the surprisingly quick arrival of former United Nations co-ordinator Fatma Samoura as secretary-general and departures of the heads of the travel department and general secretariat.

Further controversy surrounded events at the Mexico City congress in May which was followed swiftly by the resignation of Swiss businessman Domenico Scala as chair of the audit and compliance panel plus a number of sackings including that of interim secretary-general and finance director Markus Kattner.

The anti-Infantino leaks campaign began soon afterwards, notably with the publishing of a transcript of parts of a FIFA council meeting. This included a comment from Infantino that his pay offer was “insulting” and disagreement over his wish to bring about Scala’s removal.

Further critical comments followed revelations about Infantino’s expenses claim (mattresses, car hire, dress suit etc) plus confusion over his flight arrangements to World Cup hosts Russia and Qatar and then a widely-reported private family visit with his wife and mother to an audience granted by Pope Francis in Rome.

Two investigations

The ethics committee refused to comment on proceedings but has now confirmed that both informal and then formal investigations were launched.

However it had been decided not to publish the decision to open an formal inquiry by Trinidadian lawyer investigator Vanessa Allard “to ensure independent, unimpaired and focused proceedings based on the considerable volume of documents, information and data produced already during the preliminary investigation.”

The ethics committee said it had undertaken “a large number of interviews with witnesses and Mr Infantino himself, as well as an extensive analysis of evidence, and were supported by independent legal opinions. The investigations were carried out diligently over several weeks.”

It added:

“The preliminary investigations, led by Djimrabaye Bourngar, deputy chairman of the investigatory chamber, and assisted by Justice Robert Torres, focused on potential breaches of art. 13 (General rules of conduct), art. 15 (Loyalty), art. 19 (Conflicts of interest) and art. 20 (Offering and accepting gifts) of the FCE.

“The evidence gathered suggested prima facie cases of FCE violations with regard to several flights taken by Mr Infantino during the first months of his presidency, human resources matters related to hiring processes in the President’s office, and Mr Infantino’s refusal to sign the contract specifying his employment relationship with FIFA.

“In accordance with art. 28 par. 3 of the FCE, Mr Bourngar decided to open formal proceedings regarding these matters. Other allegations related to expenses and governance issues had also been investigated but did not lead to any prima facie cases.”

Allard concluded that the flights issue did not represent ethics violations nor were “the benefits enjoyed by Mr Infantino” considered improper in the light of applicable FIFA rules and regulations. The issue over Infantino’s contract was an issue of internal compliance rather than ethics.

Extra analysis

Just to double-check, Allard’s conclusions were “reviewed by the chairman and the deputy chairman of the adjudicatory chamber, Hans-Joachim Eckert and Alan Sullivan, respectively. After review, they did not raise any objection to the investigatory chamber’s decision to conclude the investigations.”

Infantino, who is currently in Brazil for the opening of the Rio Olympic Games, issued a statement of his own saying he was “pleased that, following a thorough review, no violation of the FIFA code of ethics has been committed.”

He now felt free to continue to improving the worldwide development stragegy and restructuring the administration of world football’s governking body.

Infantino added: “Tangible progress has been made in key areas such as ensuring that those who have acted against the interests of football are identified and held to account, improving FIFA’s governance and repairing its reputation, and restoring trust with its stakeholders. This critical work will continue.”