London: FIFA has responded with a remarkable ‘self-interview’ in defence of president Gianni Infantino who faces a criminal investigation by the Swiss judiciary into his meetings with outgoing Attorney-General Michael Lauber.
The 50-year-old Swiss lawyer, who was elected to lead FIFA in 2016 then re-elected last year, has denied all wrongdoing and intends to sit out the storm over his contacts with Lauber who was then overseeing more than 20 FIFA-linked cases.
Lauber’s stated inability to recall some of the meetings and failure to make an official record prompted the anonymous registration of four formal complaints with the Bern cantonal judiciary. This led special prosecutor Stefan Keller to identify “elements that make up reprehensible behaviour,” open a case against Infantino and Valais regional prosecutor Rinaldo Arnold as well as seek permission to open a case against Lauber.
Now FIFA has not only responded but responded at length.
The world football federation’s question-and-answer statement is as follows:
What is FIFA’s opinion on the opening of the proceeding by Dr. Stefan Keller?
There was and is absolutely no reason to open any investigation because nothing remotely criminal has happened and there is nothing at all to suggest any form of criminal wrongdoing
Is meeting a prosecutor illegal in Switzerland?
Of course it is not illegal. It is not illegal anywhere in the world
At the time of the meetings between the FIFA President and the Swiss Federal Prosecutor, the Office of the Swiss Attorney General (OAG) was conducting investigations in over 20 cases in FIFA related matters, and FIFA is a damaged party to those proceedings. It was therefore entirely logical for the FIFA President to be meeting the Swiss Federal Prosecutor
Meetings or contacts between parties and prosecutors are routine during an investigation.
Regular meetings were as well held between the General Counsel of FIFA and the lead investigator of the OAG several times. Meetings like this were held all over the world and led for example to over 40 convictions in the United States.
What was the purpose of the meetings with the Swiss Federal Prosecutor?
The purpose was always to offer FIFA’s full support in the investigations. The FIFA President and FIFA officials went to see the most senior law officer in the country to describe the changes that had been made at FIFA and offered cooperation in prosecuting criminal wrongdoing.
The FIFA President went there in good faith and as a representative of FIFA. This was also part of his fiduciary duties as FIFA President
FIFA was trying to restore trust in the institution at that time. When the first meeting took place, Gianni Infantino had only been FIFA President for 24 days.
FIFA was in a disastrous situation and at risk of being designated a criminal organisation by the US authorities. In this toxic environment relationships between FIFA and the OAG was only one of the many pressing issues that had to be addressed by the FIFA President
The FIFA President also wished to explain the concrete steps being taken to bring good governance to FIFA. It has been the FIFA President’s aim from day one to improve governance standards in FIFA and also to assist the authorities with investigating past criminal wrongdoings at FIFA. FIFA officials have met with prosecutors in other jurisdictions across the world for exactly these purposes
Were these meetings secret?
No, in no way whatsoever. The meetings venues were organised by the OAG in public places, like hotels and restaurants. The FIFA President did not chose the venues for the meetings
All the meetings were officially scheduled well ahead of time by the OAG and were mentioned in their calendars.
There is no obligation for the FIFA President under any FIFA regulation or any law to keep minutes of any such meetings.
What is the basis for the opening of this investigation by [special prosecutor] Dr Stefan Keller?
First of all, Dr Stefan Keller has presented no serious elements or legal basis for the opening of any investigation and lacks any detail as to the substance of the case. In addition, the investigation was opened without even consulting the FIFA President first to ask for an explanation
FIFA has had no access to the file of Dr Stefan Keller, even if it seems that the anonymous complaints which led him to open his investigation have been provided to the media.
For the record, FIFA and the FIFA President categorically deny any implication or suggestion that the FIFA President would ever have attempted to exert any form of improper influence on the Swiss Federal Prosecutor.
Meeting a prosecutor is the best guarantee that any such meeting is legitimate because if there would be even the slightest suggestion of wrongdoing a prosecutor would and should intervene immediately to report it. This is his legal and professional obligation.
Were there investigations on these meetings before?
Yes, these meetings were already investigated by another special prosecutor in an investigation concerning Rinaldo Arnold. That investigation was closed and no charges were ever brought.
The meetings were also considered by the Supervisory Authority of the OAG in connection with a disciplinary proceeding against the Swiss Federal Prosecutor and no criminal prosecutions resulted from that either.
Consequently, Swiss federal and cantonal authorities have therefore already examined the very same facts and none of them have concluded that there was any reason for an ex-officio criminal investigation.
Has the FIFA President already explained the background to these meetings before?
He already explained the background to the meetings during the investigation against Rinaldo Arnold mentioned previously and which was concluded with no charges brought.
On the same occasion, FIFA disclosed all the information that it had concerning these meetings including all related correspondence.
In addition, the FIFA President provided further details on the meetings in a letter sent to the President of the Supervisory Authority of the OAG
Did the FIFA President deny the existence of the third meeting?
He never denied the existence of any meeting.
Why has the new investigation been opened?
Basically because some anonymous complaints were filed in the canton of Bern.
One can only speculate on why such complaints were filed not knowing their contents, but objectively they have caused a considerable damage to FIFA and to its President Gianni Infantino, despite the fact that they have no merit whatsoever.
Finally, it should be noted that there is an extremely low threshold under Swiss law for the opening of an investigation following any complaint, even an anonymous one.
What is happening now at the FIFA Ethics Committee?
The Ethics Committee is an independent body of FIFA and it will do its work independently. Generally, the Ethics Committee does not comment on either existing or potential ongoing proceedings.
Are there any immediate consequences on the opening of the investigations?
The FIFA President will continue to fully assume his functions within FIFA and fulfil his duties and will continue to cooperate with the authorities in Switzerland and around the world.