By Paul Nicholson
May 4 – FIFA and its president Gianni Infantino’s insistence on the Swiss judiciary pursuing a criminal case against former FIFA president Sepp Blatter could blow back on the governing body and potentially become a PR embarrassment for beIN Sports and PSG boss Nasser Al-Khelaifi.
FIFA struck a secret deal in February – described at the time as a “friendly settlement” with Al-Khelaifi – that saw FIFA withdraw its criminal complaint against him. The withdrawn original complaint was of private corruption, embezzlement of funds and disloyalty.
It seems likely that when FIFA filed the complaint in Switzerland there was US pressure to chase down any Qatari influence in an organisation that had awarded the country the 2022 World Cup amidst a maelstrom of controversy and unproven accusation.
It looked like that criminal case was all done and dusted with the decision to close it. But while the legals may be over the, FIFA’s evangelical taking of the moral high ground inevitably comes with its own scrutiny, including of past actions.
The speculation in Swiss judicial circles and media is that if FIFA wants to command that high ground with its Blatter demands, then the governing body should be even handed across all its ethics business and reveal detail of its deal with Al-Khelaifi – a prosecution the Swiss Attorney General has pursued with an almost religious vigour. If there is nothing to hide then let’s not hide it.
FIFA has frequently come under criticism for the selective and secretive nature of its own ethics investigations under Infantino, and in particular the picking and choosing of which complaints to investigate – and often using the threat of investigation or its results as a lever against the individual (the threats against CAF executive committee member Musa Bility being just one example recently).
For FIFA to demand the Blatter investigation continues – it is “strongly insisting” – looks both personal and, what was described by one former FIFA insider, as a “cheap” attempt to deflect attention away from Infantino and his relationship and undocumented meetings with Michael Lauber, the Swiss Attorney General.
Lauber’s position as Swiss AG is looking increasingly untenable, his investigations are collapsing, the AG’s office has lost the trust of its peers (Lauber was sanctioned for ethical breaches), and his credibility has been destroyed both domestically and internationally.
Those undocumented meetings could reopen a further potential judicial pothole for the FIFA president. The meetings with Lauber were facilitated by Rinaldo Arnold. Arnold is a prosecutor in the southern canton of Valais and a long time friend of Infantino who has benefitted from his hospitality at FIFA events.
The question here is whether Arnold used undue influence at the Swiss AG’s office and whether there has been manipulation of the judicial process. An investigation into just that was closed last year, but the questions haven’t been adequately answered, rather brushed under what is becoming an enormous Swiss carpet.
Demanding the Blatter investigations continue so stridently is looking like something of a false positive, and beggars the question of whether the real challenge for the future of football governance is not with the old president but the new one.
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