FIFA gives Swiss justice system a lesson in criminal law

By Paul Nicholson

Turkeys don’t vote for Christmas. FIFA’s ethics folk don’t do much that isn’t in their own interest either.

Yesterday’s press release from FIFA was a work of art that can only be admired for the brilliance of its efficiency in dealing with the latest integrity crisis (and probably biggest so far) to hit the world governing of football under president Gianni Infantino.

It is a wonderful work of literature that is worth multiple re-reads – so remarkable is the content.

The PR prose concerns the opening of criminal proceedings by Swiss special prosecutor Thomas Keller, against the leader of  the free world of football and the nature of his undocumented and secret meetings with a former Swiss Attorney General. Criminal proceedings are quite serious, they really are. FIFA has shown how seriously they are taking these proceedings by the barrage of public relations folk that it has thrown in to solve this criminal investigation (whose Covid budget are that lot coming out of?). After all, it is the public relations agenda that will get to the bottom of this crime rather than the natural course of Swiss justice.

The first sentence of the press release says that “following reports appearing in several media sources since May 2020, the chairperson of the investigatory chamber of the independent Ethics Committee has initiated a preliminary investigation”.

Good opening, seems like things might be looking bleak for Infantino after all, a proper and transparent process is about to take place – new FIFA at its best. But this is where the reader is lulled into a brilliant and cruel false sense of justice – fantastic plot narration so concisely threaded together – because by paragraph five Infantino has been probed, investigated, presumably interviewed, and unconditionally cleared of all charges. He will not be suspended (“some aspects do not even fall within the provisions of the FIFA Code of Ethics”) and will be free to terrorise the corridors of FIFA’s House on the hill like the Hood from Thunderbirds (google him). No International Rescue needed for FIFA, those boys (there might have been a girl, I think called Loretta, on that team as well) were the first responders back in May 2015.

Case opened and closed in five remarkable paragraphs.

Show me the money evidence?

So where is the evidence that so moved the chairperson of the investigatory chamber of the independent Ethics Committee, Colombian Claudia Maria Rojas, to open and close this criminal case in two months, and within 14 days of the Swiss justice system opening its own criminal investigation.

Rojas was given “a copy of the decision of 29 July 2020 by the Swiss special prosecutor, as well as the various decisions of the Swiss Federal Criminal and Administrative Courts relating to the matter and the ruling of the Supervisory Authority for the Office of the Attorney General relating to Mr Lauber.”

So actually it seems that she hasn’t seen any evidence – it would have been remarkable if she had as the investigation is only just starting. She has been given copies of the decision and come up with her own decision that backs the boss that pays her $250,000 a year and installed her in her position.

FIFA’s Ethics investigators seem to have a two-speed setting depending what is required. Infantino needed help fast. Ahmad (remember him, the sex-pest, money filching African president – allegedly) has been under investigation for two years with real evidence, interviews and witness statements pointing to his guilt but somehow a conclusion can’t be reached.

Ahmad’s investigation had evidence delivered on a gold platter but FIFA have still not acted. Infantino’s case (opened in May) had no evidence available – how could she have seen evidence if the investigation has not been completed – but on the no-evidence yet seen it is enough to close the case.

Indeed, even Alasdair ‘who’s-ringing-his’ Bell, FIFA’s fire spitting legal lead and deputy general secretary, last week said he hadn’t seen any evidence regarding the case as he venomously rubbished the Swiss justice system, everyone else around him and presumably his cat when he got home.

Rojas must be getting her evidential reading from tea leaves or that other product her country has become famous for.

One thing is for certain, it is very brave to close the case at FIFA before the official criminal investigation has been closed by the Swiss justice authorities. If FIFA didn’t want to do anything on this, like suspend their president, then surely they would have acted like they have in the Ahmad case and done nothing.

So why close the case so fast? If it is to show to the world that Infantino is as pure as the driven snow across the Alps then it isn’t working. Even the slowest of observers will wonder if this is just a PR attempt to influence the Swiss investigation. If Infantino is found guilty will we then all have to get woke and back a #GianniIsInnocent movement.

Certainly the FIFA press release sent shockwaves through the Swiss justice system who saw FIFA’s move as provocation and a direct challenge to their own integrity. There has been no other instance in FIFA’s ethics history where FIFA has cleared an individual of criminal charges when that individual was still under investigation for the same charges by a national judiciary. But there are a few examples of the opposite – the last president, Sepp Blatter, was one.

At the bottom of all of this is what was the content of the three meetings Infantino had with Attorney General Michael Lauber. Why were they secret and why the collective amnesia? And while there is no issue with a FIFA president meeting with whoever he chooses, why would he meet three times with a prosecutor when he has properly qualified in-house and other legal help to deal with issues directly?

Infantino may be innocent of the Swiss charges against him and is presumed so until judged otherwise. So why all the noise and the protesting, and why is the institution throwing everything in its armoury into defending one individual – FIFA isn’t the subject of criminal proceedings, Infantino is. The more they protest the more hinky it looks.

Under Infantino FIFA initially shed jobs as staff were funnelled out of those famous revolving doors. Since then the organisation has ballooned to 1,000 busy beavers with a top tier of Infantino sycophants singing the new company song. If he goes they will likely have to go as well. So for all of them there is a lot at stake. Even so, it was a big big play by the FIFA Ethics department.

Paul Nicholson is the editor of Insideworldfootball. Contact him at moc.l1600634086labto1600634086ofdlr1600634086owedi1600634086sni@n1600634086osloh1600634086cin.l1600634086uap1600634086