October 26 – It was just the decision he had been waiting for and he milked it with all the self-congratulation he could muster.
In another blow to the Swiss justice system, criminal proceedings against FIFA President Gianni Infantino over a series of secret meetings with former Swiss attorney general Michael Lauber have been formally dropped, ending a long-running saga stretching back several years that heaped constant suspicion on the man who promised, after being elected in 2016, to clean up world football’s governing body.
The investigation by Swiss prosecutors focussed on undocumented meetings Infantino had with Lauber between July 2015 and June 2017. At the time Lauber was looking into corruption linked to World Cup bidding, but lost his job in the fallout from the Infantino meetings.
Switzerland’s first special prosecutor, Stefan Keller, was later removed by a federal court after Infantino formally complained of bias. The case was taken over by two other special prosecutors Hans Maurer and Ulrich Weder who are reported to have questioned Infantino further after he returned from the 2022 World Cup.
But the case has now been dropped with no charges brought, prosecutors admitting that their investigation had turned up no evidence that Infantino had “instrumentalised” the Office of the Attorney General of Switzerland “into unusual, inexplicable, erroneous or even criminal acts or omissions”.
They confirmed the investigation had looked at four meetings – one in 2015, two in 2016 and one in 2017 – over “a suspicion that the Office of the Attorney General of Switzerland was being instrumentalised by FIFA. However, that suspicion “has not been substantiated in the course of the comprehensive investigation. On the contrary, the suspicion was refuted.”
As soon as the ruling was made public, instead of quietly taking it in his stride with a brief and understandable presidential statement of vindication, Infantino couldn’t resist hailing it as an illustration of his own modus operandi and that of his organisation.
In a triumphalist display of self-glorification, he described the ruling as a “clear victory for me, for the new FIFA and for justice,” lambasting “attempts by poor, envious and corrupt people to attack my reputation”.
That is a huge claim from a man who has been under criminal investigation in Switzerland more than once.
Although he did not name those he was referring to as being corrupt, one of them may well have been Michel Platini, UEFA president at the time.
Platini, ultimately banned over the secret payments scandal that also snared Sepp Blatter, long suspected that the Infantino-Lauber meetings involved passing of information to block his hopes of becoming FIFA president in succession to Blatter. Infantino, once Platini’s number two at Uefa, ended up getting the job instead of the Frenchman.
Infantino, who had repeatedly denied any wrongdoing, kept up the rhetoric by adding: “Indeed and with no surprise, the investigation fully and clearly confirms that I have always acted in a lawful and correct way, always defending exclusively the interests of FIFA and football.”
In fact, there was not one statement in his defence, but two, the other coming from the governing body itself though clearly with the hand of Infantino behind it.
“Now it is official,” trumpeted FIFA’s statement, saying it noted “with extreme satisfaction”, the decision to end the investigation.
“Mr Maurer and Mr Weder were put on the case after the previous ‘extraordinary prosecutor’ was rightfully kicked out by the Swiss Federal Criminal Court in 2021 for acting with evident bias.”
“Gianni Infantino has always acted absolutely correctly and lawfully in his relations with the Swiss public prosecutors who were investigating the old FIFA. The new FIFA is today a clean, well run and robust organisation which operates in accordance with the highest ethical and governance standards. The outcome of this investigation is obviously entirely unsurprising. The only surprising element is the long time taken to reach such an obvious conclusion.”
The thing about this is that the investigation was never about the ‘old’ FIFA. It was only about Infantino and whether he perverted the course of justice for his own personal advancement. The court of public opinion that has followed this case and those within FIFA’s football federations will not be so easily fooled by the misleading and exuberant celebration of the win against Swiss justice.
For the record, Blatter and Platini were also cleared of any criminal mismanagement and, unlike Infantino, there was never any question of an investigation into their attempt to pervert the course of justice.
As soon as the investigations were announced into Blatter and Platini they were suspended by FIFA’s Ethics committee under FIFA’s own laws. The multiple investigations into Infantino have never seen him stand down while the investigations ran their course. And this perhaps is the best example of the ‘new’ FIFA in action.
Ultimately you either respect the laws or you don’t. The ‘Rubiales-style’ celebrations of Infantino’s case being dismissed isn’t a good look, whichever side of the ruling you sit on.
Contact the writer of this story at firstname.lastname@example.org. Additional reporting by email@example.com