KEIR RADNEDGE REPORTING —- Gianni Infantino, whatever Swiss justice may be pondering, is innocent and clear to continue leading FIFA forward according to the world football federation’s own ethics committee.

The ethics panel had been pressured into opening an inquiry into the 50-year-old Swiss lawyer by the negative worldwide publicity after a special prosecutor opened a criminal investigation into Infantino’s role in the ‘Lauber affair.’

This concerns a series of semi-secret meetings held between Infantino, before and after he become FIFA president in 2016, with Swiss Attorney-General Michael Lauber. The latter’s limited memory of the meetings is about to cost him his own job.

Gianni Infantino . . . FIFA president since 2016

Special prosecutor Stefan Keller was responding to formal anonymous complaints when he ordered the investigation into Infantino, among others, over “indications of criminal conduct [concerning] abuse of public office, breach of official secrecy, assisting offenders and incitement to these acts.”

Infantino, describing the process as absurd, launched FIFA on an aggressive counter-attack.

He has been bolstered in that strategy by the verdict of FIFA’s own ethics committee. Chair Maria Claudia Rojas issued a statement which cleared the legal board with perfect timing as FIFA prepares for its video-conferenced annual congress next month.

How it works

An ethics investigation, put simply, can run to three stages.

The first is the raising of an issue of concern, the second a preliminary inquiry to assess the need for a formal investigation. The latter, in some circumstances, can prompt the suspension of the person concerned while maintaining a presumption of innocence.

In this case Rojas decided that nothing even justified a formal investigation. Hence Infantino is in the clear.

Whether the Swiss authorities will ever come up with anything further is problematic. Based on the five years they have already been investigating former FIFA president Sepp Blatter they are not expected to reach conclusions of any sort in the near future.

A FIFA statement said: “After examining the relevant documentation and evidence, the chairperson of the investigatory chamber [Rojas] has decided to file the complaint and close the case due to the evident lack of a prima facie case regarding any alleged breach of the FIFA Code of Ethics.

“Based on the information available to date, no aspect of the conduct analysed constitutes a violation of the FIFA regulations.

“Some aspects do not even fall within the provisions of the FIFA Code of Ethics, or justify the adoption of any kind of measure, including that of a provisional suspension.”

Awkward distraction

The furore has been an unwanted distraction for Infantino at a time when FIFA has had to take emergency financial action to offset the worldwide impact of Covid-19.

The pandemic has also halted the 2022 World Cup qualifying campaign and vaporised Infantino’s Club World Cup expansion project.

Infantino, formerly general secretary of European federation UEFA, was elected as FIFA president in 2016 and re-elected unopposed last year. In January he became a member of the International Olympic Committee.

He has always insisted that FIFA today bears no relation to an organisation which became a byword for corruption after the explosion in 2015 of the FIFAGate scandal which dethroned Blatter and his cronies.