FIFA reform process in tatters after elimination of FIFA’s Ethics chiefs

By Andrew Warshaw in Manama, Bahrain

May 10 – FIFA’s entire governance apparatus – or lack of it – has come crashing down after the two men mainly responsible for cleaning up the organisation were ousted from their positions today in what will be regarded by many as the ultimate purge orchestrated by Fifa president Gianni Infantino.
In a widely anticipated but nevertheless stunning development ahead of the FIFA Congress on Thursday, the organisation’s new-look and supposedly accountable ruling  Council decided not to retain the services of FIFA’s chief investigator Cornel Borbely and lead judge Hans-Joachim Eckert whose work over the past few years have brought down a raft of high-profile powerbrokers and corrupt officials, most notably Sepp Blatter and Michel Platini.

Virtually overnight, the ethics pair, who had indicated they wished to continue when their mandates ended this week and who had passed the relevant integrity tests, will have the arduous task of handing over a sizeable file of ongoing cases to their replacements, Colombian lawyer Maria Claudia Rojas and Greek judge Vassilios Skouris, who was president of the European Court of Justice in Luxembourg for 12 years until 2015.

The council also recommended Fiti Sunia of America Samoa to serve as deputy to Skouris, while Canada’s Bruno de Vita and Martin Ngoga of Rwanda will work alongside Rojas. The decisions are set to be ratified by FIFA’s full Congress on Thursday but that is a mere formality.

Three weeks ago, when speculation mounted about the pair losing their positions, Infantino’s number two Fatma Samoura said she “did not understand” how such rumours arose and that the ethics committee was working just fine. Either she was being economical with the truth or she had not been informed of pending developments.

Eckert certainly wasn’t informed until around the time the FIFA announcement was made late Tuesday local time in Bahrain. It is understood he learned about his removal whilst on a flight to the Gulf state where a hastily arranged ethics committee press conference has been announced for this morning (Wednesday).

Under Infantino’s leadership FIFA has now removed virtually every one of the executives who served under Blatter, some rightly so. But quite how FIFA can restore its credibility after jettisoning Eckert and Borbely, who were supposedly two of the good guys, is anyone’s guess. It is understood by no means every member of the FIFA Council were in favour of the move.

In the meantime, in a rare public display of anger, Borbely and Eckert, who have run the two ethics committee chambers for four years, pulled no punches as they attacked FIFA for making a mockery of good governance and destroying a reform programme Infantino had been so keen to endorse when he succeeded Blatter a year ago.

“Hans-Joachim Eckert and Cornel Borbély regret the decision by the FIFA Council to not re-nominate them for the position of the chairmen of the two chambers of FIFA’s Independent Ethics Committee,” they said.

“The impending non-election will set the work of the Ethics Committee far back and is de facto the end of FIFA’s reform efforts. It must be assumed that entire FIFA will suffer from this decision in the medium and long term.

“The work of a credible and independent Ethics Committee is an important part of the FIFA reforms whose goal was to restore the trust of the public and other stakeholders. Since 2015 the Investigatory Chamber has carried out 194 investigations and the Adjudicatory Chamber has sentenced more than 70 officials.”

This time last year, in what was construed as a ruthless power grab, Infantino used his first full congress as FIFA president to smuggle through a motion allowing the Council, chaired by himself, to hire and fire independent members of FIFA’s judicial bodies. While audit and compliance chief Domenico Scala resigned on the spot in protest, Borbely and Eckert stuck it out but now they are paying the price.

In what appeared to be a direct attack on Infantino for having a personal motive even though he was cleared of any wrongdoing in an ethics investigation into his conduct last year, the pair added: “The impending and clearly politically motivated non-reappointment puts de facto an end to the reform efforts. This will inevitably lead to a renewed loss of trust and further hurt the already tarnished image of FIFA.

“Consequently, the non-reappointment will have a negative impact on FIFA in the medium and long term. The successors of both chairmen will have to familiarize themselves with the dossiers and the processes. The non-election will lead to long delays in current investigations and proceedings, and complicate the prosecution of violations of the Code of Ethics.”

“It appears that the heads of FIFA have attached greater weight to their own and political interests, than to the long-term interests of FIFA. They have accepted jeopardising FIFA’s integrity, and, hence, the future of the game.

The two chairmen Cornel Borbély and Hans-Joachim Eckert look back at the work accomplished by the Ethics Committee with pride. They have enforced the Code of Ethics with independence and consistent legal work, and hence, have made sports history. Their work received the sympathy and support of reform-minded forces, for which they want to express their sincere gratitude.”

Eckert and Borbely may have been the most high-profile figures who lost their FIFA roles but the Infantino-led Council also cleaned out a spate of other  respected watchdogs – not least Miguel Maduro, a former Portuguese government minister, who chaired the all-important governance committee that was responsible for vetting all major appointments.

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