By Andrew Warshaw
December 11 – FIFA’s highly controversial decision to purge its senior governance officials last May with the backing of Gianni Infantino has been seriously called into question in a scathing attack by the Council of Europe.
Ever since Cornel Borbely and Hans-Joachim Eckert, who chaired the investigatory and adjudicatory chambers of FIFA’s Ethics Committee respectively, were unexpectedly replaced along with chief governance guru Miguel Maduro, Infantino has argued they had simply come to the end of their mandates and that FIFA’s ethics apparatus needed a different geographic and gender spread.
But an eagerly awaited report drawn up by former Council of Europe Parliamentary Assembly (PACE) president Anne Brasseur takes a different view with an embarrassing assault on Fifa’s way of operating, accusing Infantino of “micro-management” and pointing to “the high number of people dismissed” since his election as FIFA boss.
The 47-page report specifically questions the appointment of Maria Claudia Rojas – understood to have been Infantino’s personal recommendation to the FIFA Council – as Borbely’s successor, claiming the Colombian simply isn’t up to the job and “does not really meet the profile of a prosecutor.'”
Rojas’ lack of English and French, says Brasseur, “is a major obstacle, as almost all documents are in one of these two languages. It’s about really deep investigations – it’s very difficult if you are not fluent in the language.”
To make matters worse, according to the report, Rojas was friends with fellow Colombian Luis Bedoya, a former member of the FIFA executive committee who was banned for life in May last year and recently testified at the ongoing FifaGate trials in New York.
In a statement FIFA said that Rojas and all other appointed candidates for their independent committees and judicial bodies “were chosen because they are recognized, high-profile experts in their respective fields.”
But that is not a view shared by those previously involved in the ethics process. Borbely said at the time of his removal that the decision to replace him was “politically motivated” and “means nothing else but the end of the reform process.” Two months ago both he and Eckert appeared in person before a closed PACE session in Paris and said their investigative work, which brought down a string of corrupt officials, could only be done properly without internal interference or pressure.
A PACE statement at the time quoted Borbely as telling delegates: “I believe the FIFA ethics code is now a good one – but if it is to be effective, the choice of who enforces it must be made with absolute transparency.”
Eckert, meanwhile, is reported to have told the Assembly: “You can have the best possible ethics framework on paper – but success ultimately depends on the quality of the people who are applying it, and their ability to work entirely independently.”
Some reports suggest Borbely was investigating the alleged role of Russia’s World Cup chief Vitaly Mutko in state-sponsored doping when he was removed by FIFA. It has also been claimed – without any proof – that Borbély had also opened an investigation into Infantino’s alleged interference in the election of Ahmad Ahmad as president of the Confederation of African Football.
Maduro’s departure, meanwhile, was widely reported to have been linked to his decision to block Mutko from keeping his seat on FIFA’s ruling council. Mutko, a key Infantino ally, was barred because his role as Russia’s deputy prime minister was deemed to be in conflict with FIFA’s regulations on political neutrality.
All this was summed up neatly in one telling phrase by Brasseur who has proposed, as have others, an independent panel outside of FIFA to oversee the ethics process and the integrity of elections.
“Regretfully, the general feeling is that FIFA council and Mr Infantino in particular wished to get rid of persons who might have embarrassed them,” she wrote stingingly.
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