Infantino flies back into ethics storm as FIFA opens preliminary investigation

By Andrew Warshaw and Paul Nicholson

June 29 – After some respite with media attention focussed on events on the field at Euro 2016 in France and the Copa America Centenario in the US, the pressure is back on FIFA president Gianni Infantino following yet more speculation that he is to be investigated by FIFA’s ethics committee over possible conflict of interest.

According to the Frankfurter Allgemeine (FAZ) newspaper, FIFA’s ethics committee is in the process of launching a preliminary investigation though the committee itself continues to be tight-lipped over whether this is indeed the case.

A key area where Infantino looks exposed from an ethics and expenses standpoint is over his alleged use of private jets for official travel, and personal use. A major factor that went against former FIFA general secretary Jerome Valcke who was banned for 12 years for a series of violations of ethics rules included travelling “at FIFA’s expense purely for sightseeing reasons as well as repeatedly choosing private flights for his trips over commercial flights without any business rationale for doing so.”

The precedent hence looks to have been set if Infantino used private aircraft similarly. Attention is once again focused on Infantino’s trip from Milan to Rome (with his wife and mother) after the Champions League final to visit the  Pope and then on from Rome to Geneva. Reports alleged one or more of the flights was arranged by a well-known Russian oligarch using an aircraft that belonged to one of his companies.

FIFA has also denied that any of their funds were used but someone, somewhere paid for the flight, or flights, and so far no-one has held their hand up.

FAZ has already raised questions about previous flights taken by Infantino in April when traveling to Moscow and Doha to visit respective World Cup organisers while much intrigue still surrounds the alleged behind-closed-doors plot, ahead of last month’s FIFA Congress in Mexico, to get rid of former audit and compliance chief Domenico Scala.

Although the alleged conspiracy failed, Scala resigned over the highly contentious new rule, approved by Congress, giving FIFA’s new ruling Council the power to hire and fire members of independent bodies. The statute change effectively blew away much of the trust observers had been expressing in the independence of the ethics process, which had been a hard-fought win in the first instance

Scala also headed the compensation committee, which set Infantino’s salary at a reported $2 million, the contract for which is apparently still unsigned on Infantino’s side. Last week the salary issue burst back into the spotlight after another independent member of the same compensation committee also resigned.

Jean-Pierre Pedrazzini gave no reason for his departure but it left an alarming void within  the three-member body and raised obvious questions about when Infantino might put pen to paper or if he is waiting for replacement committee members who may be more favourable to a larger pay deal.

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