KEIR RADNEDGE REPORTING —- FIFA is putting heavy public pressure on the Swiss judiciary to come to a decision one way or another over the criminal investigation into Gianni Infantino.
The world football federation’s president, who was elected to lead FIFA in 2016 then re-elected last year, has denied all wrongdoing and intends to sit out a storm over his contacts with departing Attorney-General Michael Lauber who had been overseeing 20 FIFA-linked cases.
Lauber’s inability to recall or record some of the meetings prompted the anonymous registration of four formal complaints with the Bern cantonal judiciary. A special prosecutor, Stefan Keller, decided that they met the threshold necessary to open an inquiry into the conduct of not only Infantino but a friend who was a regional prosecutor and to seek parliamentary permission to open a case against Lauber.
FIFA’s usual response to past legal tangles was to try to shut down discussion by issuing a flat denial of wrongdoing and refusing further comment.
Not this time.
At the weekend FIFA issued a “self-interview” question-and-answer press release and today Alasdair Bell, its joint deputy secretary-general, went on the attack. He complained that FIFA had not been informed of the substance of the complaints against Infantino in a process which was “absurd” as well as “grotesque and unfair.”
‘Nothing to hjide’
Bell, in a media video conference, said: “We, FIFA and Gianni Infantino the president, have absolutely nothing to hide. We want the truth to come out, to be as transparent as possible, we welcome questions.
“There is no factual basis whatsoever for this criminal investigation. No description of criminal misconduct of any kind has been communicated to FIFA – unless meeting the Attorney-General has become a crime in Switzerland, which I rather doubt.
“We have no idea what it is that the FIFA president has done wrong or could even remotely be described as criminal conduct.”
The core issue appears to be the subjects discussed between Infantino and Lauber. Not only had Lauber forgotten two of the meetings but neither man apparently made any contemporaneous and subsequent notes of the meetings.
Bell sought to explain this away on the basis that the men and their meetings were too important for note-taking or recording.
He said: “Gianni Infantino did not take notes or minutes of the meetings. They were quite high-level meetings.
“The first meeting was less than a month after he was elected as FIFA president. You go [to meet the Attorney-General] to demonstrate your willingness to co-operate: The organisation has turned a new chapter. You describe changes being made, offer co-operation in the investigations.
“Even Lauber himself would not be personally responsible for the specific investigations concerning the past FIFA of which there are 20.
“So it’s not a meeting in which you would take detailed minutes . . . it’s more an expression of willingness and trust with state law enforcement.”
Bell pointed to FIFA’s scandal-ridden past under previous president Sepp Blatter to justify the need for several meetings discussing generalities.
He said: “FIFA is party to something like 20 cases. You don’t cover everything in one meeting.
“FIFA had an absolutely miserable history before Gianni Infantino was elected. It was like an organised kleptocracy, the way it was run. We have to change the culture and demonstrate to the justice organisations this is a different organisation with different people in it. You have to build a level of trust and you don’t do it in one meeting.”
Capitalising on his international media audience, Bell issued a specific, even barbed, challenge to Keller and the Swiss judiciary.
He said: “FIFA is involved in many cases ongoing where we hope one day the Office of the Attorney-General will make some progress. There is something grotesque and unfair about this because we are 100pc confident there will never be a criminal charge against the FIFA president.
“[But] we have a situation where objectively there is damage to both FIFA and the FIFA president because of the existence of this criminal investigation. We think that’s not right and not fair.
“We want to co-operate fully because we want the truth to come out — and we want it to come out quickly.”