By Andrew Warshaw
May 21 – On the eve of Gianni Infantino welcoming FIFA’s global membership to today’s annual congress, the Special Prosecutor who was investigating his infamous secret meetings with the former Swiss attorney general formally quit.
Stefan Keller (pictured) had already been taken off the case earlier this month after a ruling by the country’s federal criminal court that his public comments about the case reflected bias against Infantino whose legal team had been waged a running battle with the prosecutor
But Keller certainly did not go lightly when handing in his resignation, blasting the decision to remove him.
In a highly unusual move, Keller, who had opened criminal proceedings in July 2020 over meetings which Infantino and former Swiss attorney general Michael Lauber had held while Lauber’s office was investigating alleged FIFA corruption, hinted at counter-bias as he savaged the Swiss judicial system, saying he was “unable to continue his investigation due to the personal composition of the Federal Criminal Court”.
Key to Keller’s resignation statement was the inference that any investigation into Infantino’s conduct would now be halted in its tracks and run out of time.
Keller had concluded after taking over the probe that there were indications of criminal conduct in relation to the undisclosed meetings between Lauber, Infantino and Valais public prosecutor Rinaldo Arnold in 2016 and 2017.
But appearing before a parliamentary commission this week, he warned that being taken off the case could mean precious time being lost before the statute of limitations expires.
FIFA’s laws have a time bar of five years for cases of conflict and disloyalty, and 10 years for corruption. On that basis Infantino is close to getting past a first milestone since the Lauber meetings took place in 2016.
In theory that would remove any obstacle for him standing for re-election in 2023 though a criminal conviction, which has a 10-year time bar, would be a different matter.
Infantino has repeatedly denied any wrongdoing and his legal team questioned Keller’s impartiality.
But Keller protested that getting rid of him would mean “setting aside considerable investigation results and the loss of precious time to conclude the procedure before the expiry of the limitation period ”.
No replacement for Keller has yet been named. which can only spell good news for the FIFA president in his attempts to distance himself from what has become a soap opera of constant twists and turns.
While suspicions of collusion between the FIFA administration and the Swiss judiciary remain, Infantino can approach today’s Congress in bullish mood with the feeling that he has cleared a major hurdle towards clearing his name and cementing his power base.
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