By Andrew Warshaw
July 5 – Two more senior personnel at FIFA have been shown the door in the latest purge by Gianni Infantino’s administration aimed at suppressing opposition to his increasingly shaky presidency.
Reports in Switzerland claim the head of FIFA’s travel department (Severin Podolak), and the chief of the general secretary’s office (Christoph Schmidt) have both left the organisation, allegedly after becoming whistleblowers by giving evidence to FIFA’s ethics committee which has not yet confirmed one way or the other whether it is opening a full investigation into Infantino.
Infantino has come under increasing pressure over a number of questionable trips using private aircraft as well as over other expense issues. He insists he has done absolutely nothing wrong and dismisses growing speculation that he has violated FIFA’s code of ethics.
His supporters also reject any suggestion that he is covering his tracks by finding a way to get rid of anyone who might incriminate him. Former audit and compliance head and compensation committee chief Domenico Scala and ex-finance boss Markus Kattner have already left the organisation and last week another compensations committee member, Jean-Pierre Pedrazzini, also quit. They have now, it seems, been followed by Podolak and Schmidt.
A report in Schweiz am Sonntag claimed the head FIFA’s of travel department went to work as usual last week, only to be released shortly after arrival. The long-time employee’s internal phone was reportedly cut off just minutes later.
Both whistleblowers left the organisation after apparently providing the Ethics Committee with information about Infantino’s conduct, possibly over certain flights he had taken or that infamous meeting before the FIFA Congress in Mexico where a plot was allegedly hatched by Infantino to get rid of Scala. It is further claimed, albeit without proof, that Schmidt was the person who was ordered to delete audio recordings of that notorious conspiratorial gathering of FIFA’s top brass.
In the meantime, a leaked 11-page FIFA internal memo written by an unidentified employee with obvious expertise in corporate governance listed a number of irregularities and suggested Infantino’s conduct represented a possible conflict of interest since private jets paid for by third parties “is considered a personal advantage.”
When asked to comment on the latest twist to the narrative surrounding Infantino, FIFA said in an emailed statement that any changes in personnel were as a result of internal restructuring.
“As in any organisation requiring thorough restructuring new positions will be created by the new leadership as part of the programme of reforms adopted by the congress and (a) few positions will be terminated as they do no longer fit to the organisation overall restructuring process,” the statement said.
But Insideworldfootball has been given a different version of events, one that puts the woman Infantino appointed as FIFA’s first ever female general secretary, Fatma Samoura, directly at the heart of the two latest dismissals.
Whether acting alone or under instructions, it is understood Samoura, who promised to be her own person and not do Infantino’s bidding, challenged Podolak about being in contact with the ethics committee.
Yet if Podolak and Schmidt suspected any wrongdoing, they had a duty to report it. FIFA’s ethics code specifically calls on those bound by the code to “immediately report any potential breach of this Code to the secretariat of the investigatory chamber of the Ethics Committee” and says they are “obliged to contribute to clarifying the facts of the case or clarifying possible breaches and, in particular, to declare details of their income and provide the evidence requested for inspection.”
Intriguingly, it is not known how Samoura – or Infantino for that matter – knew that the two officials in question had dealings the ethics committee, dealings that are supposed to be confidential.
But it is understood Samoura, who was Infantino’s personal recommendation as general secretary, did not take kindly to discovering the news. One reason, according to well-placed sources, might have been that she was upset after allegedly being refused a free air ticket for her husband to accompany her to the recent Copa America.
Although it cannot be confirmed, if indeed she was instrumental in getting rid of both Schmidt and Podolak, it hardly endorses Samoura’s pledge to “boost morale” among staff and inject a better governance structure in the wake of a string of powerful names being brought down by the ongoing corruption scandal.
It will also raise questions about whether she really is her own person or if she is under the thumb of Infantino who, according to his critics, continues to impose a ruthless authoritarian style as he fights to stay in charge of a position he only inherited only five months ago.
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