Fresh scandal rocks FIFA as president faces criminal charges 

A criminal case against FIFA president Gianni Infantino was opened Thursday by a Swiss special prosecutor, plunging the soccer body into a new scandal.  FIFA said it and Infantino will cooperate with Swiss authorities.

Special prosecutor Stefan Keller concluded there was enough evidence to go to court after investigating the circumstances of a meeting that Infantino had with Swiss attorney general Michael Lauber.  Lauber offered his resignation last week.

Keller has uncovered “elements that make up reprehensible behavior,” according to the French-language version of a statement from the Swiss authority overseeing the federal prosecutor’s office.

Keller opened a criminal case against Infantino as well as Valais prosecutor Rinaldo Arnold, and has sought authorization to open a legal case against Lauber, too, according to the authority.

Keller, a legal expert named to the post of special prosecutor on June 29, found possible infractions included abuse of public office, breach of official secrecy, “assisting offenders” and “incitement to these acts,” the supervisory authority for the office of the attorney general said in its statement, adding other criminal acts and proceedings could also be considered.

Under the Swiss criminal code, conviction for abuse of public office can bring penalties of up to five years in prison or other detention, while breach of official secrecy and assisting offenders can incur up to three years each. Each charge can also bring financial penalties.

Suspects in such cases benefit from a presumption of innocence in Switzerland until legal proceedings are completed.

FIFA said it “acknowledges” the prosecutor’s decision and that it and Infantino “will, as we have always done, cooperate fully with this investigation.” It also highlighted past troubles at the soccer body before he took office, and said meetings with prosecutors were necessary.

“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. “FIFA officials have met with prosecutors in other jurisdictions across the world for exactly these purposes.”

FIFA also revived a statement from Infantino on June 25, when he said: “To meet with the attorney general of Switzerland is perfectly legitimate and it’s perfectly legal. It’s no violation of anything. On the contrary, it is also part of the fiduciary duties of the president of FIFA.”

Lauber offered to resign on Friday only minutes before a federal court upheld allegations that he lied about a meeting he had with Infantino during a sprawling investigation into soccer corruption. It came in response to Lauber’s appeal against being disciplined in March for misconduct.

The internal disciplinary case against Lauber focused on a meeting he had with Infantino in June 2017 at a hotel in Bern, at which the prosecutor took no notes. They later both said they could not recall their discussion at what was their third meeting in a 15-month period.

“On the basis of general life experience, such a case of collective amnesia is an aberration,” the federal court ruling said last week.

Infantino became president of FIFA in the fallout from the investigations that erupted around the governing body in 2015. Then-FIFA president Sepp Blatter, who had already announced plans to resign in the wake of arrests of dozens of soccer officials, was banned from soccer.

Michel Platini, the favorite to succeed Blatter and then serving as UEFA president, was also suspended.

In the void, Infantino, who led the UEFA administration as general secretary, saw a route to leading FIFA. The Swiss-Italian was elected in 2016, beating Asian Football Confederation president Sheikh Salman.

The Bahraini is senior vice president of FIFA and is in line to replace Infantino temporarily if he was suspended because of the criminal case.

-AP

 

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