By Paul Nicholson
March 9 – Swiss prosecutors have dropped the criminal investigation into FIFA president Gianni Infantino for the charter of a private jet between Suriname and Geneva in 2017.
FIFA welcomed the decision made by the Public Ministry of the Swiss Confederation (MPC) saying: “The MPC confirmed that the travel arrangements, made by the Office of the President and the FIFA Travel Department, fully complied with FIFA’s compliance regulations. This decision is consistent with the one issued in August 2020 by the FIFA Ethics Committee on this subject. In addition, the MPC recognized that the methods of communication relating to the organization of the trip were then completely justified.”
In August 2020 FIFA’s own ethics bodies had abandoned its own investigation into the use of the jet back due to “the evident lack of a prima facie case regarding any alleged breach of the FIFA code of ethics”.
However, a look into the timelines of when and why the jet was used, and Infantino’s defense of his private jet use leaves unanswered questions over why he has been allowed to get away with lieing to his compliance team – a lie Infantino was forced to admit to.
Infantino initially said he took the flight from Suriname to Geneva in 2017 to meet with UEFA president Aleksander Ceferin. It later emerged that Ceferin was neither in Geneva on the dates in question, nor was aware of any meeting planned.
Infantino then argued that due to the sensitive nature of his meeting he was unable to tell the truth to his compliance team and that in fact he was meeting with Vassilios Skouris, a former president of the European Court of Justice.
At that time Infantino was relatively early into his FIFA presidency and was already the subject of an investigation by his own ethics chamber into his private spending using FIFA money, and the use of private aircraft for personal trips. He had indicated that he saw no reason to replace the head of FIFA’s investigative chamber, Cornel Borbely, or the chief judge in the adjudication chamber, Hans-Jochim Eckert.
However, and perhaps once he realised that he couldn’t control them, both Borbely and Eckert were replaced at the FIFA Congress in Mexico in 2017.
Skouris – who Infantino admitted he had met in Geneva but had lied about meeting him saying he had met Ceferin – was installed at the Mexico congress as chairman of the adjudicatory chamber to replace Eckert.
Colombian Maria Rojas was appointed to head FIFA’s investigatory chamber in place of Borbely. One of her first cases was to investigate Infantino in this case, which of course named her new boss Skouris. The investigation lasted barely 24 hours before it was dismissed.
Of course the irony of all this is that if Infantino had taken a scheduled flight to Geneva then the political skulduggery and backstabbing around the replacement of his Ethics chamber chiefs would not have become such a widely aired issue. That he had to lie to try to cover it up opened another can of worms for the FIFA boss – one that he has now wriggled out of.
The message from FIFA, backed by the Swiss justice system, is that it is OK to lie in compliance procedures. That you can circumvent compliance regulations by saying that confidentiality trumps transparency and governance rules – rules put in place to stop this kind of incident.
The use of the private jet may not be a criminal offence but the circumstances raise renewed questions about Infantino’s leadership of the world governing body which now seems to be above all the checks and balances of both its own ethics bodies.
Infantino still has an outstanding criminal investigation into him in Switzerland regarding the undocumented meetings he held with former Swiss attorney general Michael Lauber and the content of those meetings – essentially allegations that Infantino attempted to pervert the course of justice for his own political benefit.
Don’t be surprised if the Swiss justice system folds on this investigation as well. In Switzerland, FIFA’s president is clearly above the law.
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