FIFA says its president Gianni Infantino would “respect” any decision made by its ethics committee, even if it chose to suspend him pending an investigation into meetings he held with the Swiss attorney general.
A special federal public prosecutor in Switzerland has opened criminal proceedings against Infantino concerning meetings with Michael Lauber in 2016 and 2017, stating that there were “indications of criminal conduct” in relation to them.
FIFA and its president have categorically denied any wrongdoing in relation to the meetings and its deputy secretary general Alasdair Bell said on Monday he is “100 per cent confident” that Infantino will not be charged, far less convicted over the matter.
— FIFA Media (@fifamedia) July 30, 2020
The world governing body’s independent ethics committee has not said yet whether or not it will open an investigation, and Bell said: “We see no factual basis for this criminal investigation. We don’t see any conduct which could be described remotely as criminal.
“That’s our analysis of the situation, the ethics committee will have to make its own analysis and come to its own decision.”
Asked if Infantino would be prepared to stand down while an investigation was conducted, Bell said: “I’ve no doubt Gianni Infantino would respect whatever decision the ethics committee comes to.”
A Swiss lawyer on the call with Bell, Marc Henzelin, said the threshold for opening a criminal investigation in the country was “very low” and that the authorities are obliged to open one unless it is immediately apparent that no offence has been committed.
Dave Zollinger, a former prosecutor who was also on the call, quoted from the order FIFA had received confirming the opening of criminal proceedings. He said that the order stated the explanations of the meetings given by Lauber and Infantino were “not convincing” and “therefore it cannot be excluded that criminal intent was actually there”.
But he added: “There is no smoking gun, it is just that criminal intent cannot be excluded.”
Infantino did not take notes from any of the three meetings, and has said he cannot remember the specific details of the 2017 encounter.
Bell said it was “bordering on preposterous” that a failure to remember should be equated with any criminal behaviour or intent.
“It seems to me extraordinary that because someone doesn’t remember the details of the meeting it’s part of some criminal conspiracy involving the attorney general of Switzerland,” he said.
Bell did not feel it was reckless of Infantino not to take notes at the meeting, which he insists were to discuss governance reforms at FIFA and the ongoing cases into the old regime at the world governing body, which Bell described as “an organised kleptocracy”.
“You don’t really expect when you go to meet the most senior prosecutor in the country that you yourself would be the subject of a criminal investigation,” he said.
“Some strange things have happened here, some strange things have happened in the office of Michael Lauber and we, FIFA, seem to be to some extent collateral damage in relation to that situation.
“I can’t in all honesty say or think or agree that it’s reckless not to take minutes of a meeting with the attorney general of a country for fear that if you don’t, something bad might happen to you in the future.”
Asked if the complaints which sparked the proceedings could have been from individuals looking to bring Infantino down, Bell replied: “It may be that the people who made the complaints would like to see Gianni Infantino fall.
“Here, we’re talking about a criminal investigation. If there are people who would like to see him fall and have orchestrated this, I think it would be a function, a worthwhile and good function of the media, to bring this out.”