By Andrew Warshaw and Paul Nicholson
June 26 – FIFA president Gianni Infantino, unable to shake off continuing suspicion over his motives for undocumented meetings with under-fire Swiss attorney general Michael Lauber, has broken his silence by insisting it was “absurd” to suggest he had done anything wrong.
Until now, Infantino has hidden behind a series of FIFA statements issued on his behalf but has now taken the initiative to defend himself in shrugging off questions in the Swiss and German media over what lay behind his dealings with Lauber who has been sanctioned for disloyalty, lying and breaching his office’s code of conduct and is facing impeachment proceedings.
Lauber has apparently also been questioned about possible collusion with Infantino, one implication apparently being that Infantino was trying to influence the Swiss judicial process in allegedly trying find out if he was the target of any corruption probe as he prepared to launch his campaign to take over from Sepp Blatter.
But at a virtual press conference following Thursday’s FIFA Council meeting, Infantino brushed aside any suggestion of wrongdoing by insisting he was simply following standard procedure.
“For a long time I have not spoken about this because the whole thing is absurd,” Infantino told listening reporters.
The undocumented meetings, the subject of an official Swiss investigation, are reported to be potentially endangering Infantino’s credibility. Additionally a criminal complaint was recently filed with the regional prosecutor’s office in Bern against him.
But Infantino was having none of it.
“Let me clarify once and for all,” said a clearly irritated Infantino. “To meet the chief prosecutor of Switzerland is perfectly legitimate and perfectly legal. It’s no violation of anything.”
“On the contrary, it’s also part of the fiduciary duties of the president of FIFA.”
FIFA has repeatedly argued that Infantino met Lauber to assure him of his willingness to cooperate fully with the probe into the FIFAGate corruption scandal.
“It’s totally legitimate (for FIFA) to offer to contribute …hoping that those who have done criminal acts will be held to account.,” said Infantino.
“What bothers me a bit is the wording about secret meetings. There is nothing secret in meeting a prosecutor in a civilised country. We are happy to be cooperating with the Swiss authorities as we do with authorities all the world, including the DoJ in the United States.”
‘Incoming’: Lauber receives more unfriendly fire
The point Infantino misses is the undocumented nature of those meetings, and why, if there were normal meetings (if there is such a thing) between a prosecutor and the head of FIFA, were they covered up.
While Infantino was breaking his silence, Lauber was taking another personal hammering over his management of the federal prosecutor’s office in a 65-page report by the body that has supervisory authority over the federal prosecutor’s office.
The report repeatedly points to Lauber’s refusal to acknowledge the authority of the supervisory body and its terms of reference as set down in Swiss law and that he deliberately worked against that body, highlights Swiss media outlet NZZ.
“It is essential and to be required from the federal prosecutor that he shows his supervisory authority the necessary respect. In this respect, it is unsustainable, for example, if the federal prosecutor no longer appears at the supervisory meetings because of his conflict with the supervisory authority or if he attacks his supervisory authority head-on at a media conference,” said the report.
The trigger for the investigations into Lauber, according to NZZ, was his unrecorded meetings with Infantino in Bern that led to repeated complaint by Lauber that the supervisory authority did not trust him enough.
Whether Infantino like it or not, those meetings have been a torpedo that looks likely to sink Lauber, while Infantino’s explanations to date look like a life raft with a nasty rip in it.
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