by Tony Attwood
A couple of weeks ago Gianni Infantino head of Fifa, a man on trial for corruption in Switzerland, met (not for the first time) with US President Donald Trump.
this was when Infantino attended the signing of the agreement between Israel, the United Arab Emirates and Bahrain in the White House on September 15.
The net day Infantino had an appointment with US Attorney General William Barr. This is interesting because it is the USA investigative authorities that were very much involved in the investigation of corruption by current and former Fifa officials – until one of their lead prosecutors disappeared only to turn up later, working for Fifa. (See Amazing unbelievable development in the Fifa battle; sadly not on UK news).
Indeed since 2015, there have been multiple hearings and convictions in the United States by the US authorities. But Infantino, perhaps taking a leaf out of Donald Trump’s approach to logic, reason and truth, announced that, “Since I was elected president, Fifa has shown it is resolute in tackling the abuse that has damaged its reputation in the past.” Which is of course true – although it might be helpful to add that the person at the centre of the allegations is… Infantino, and his resolution has involved a gigantic cover up.
He continued by saying, “We are willing to work with the authorities and support them in investigating and prosecuting corruption because it has no place in football.” He didn’t mention that he himself is accused of incitement to abuse of office. Commenting on his meeting with the US Attorney General, Infantino said: “In addition to similar meetings on my part in Switzerland, Fifa’s lawyers are in regular contact with prosecutors and law enforcement agencies whenever and wherever necessary.”
In this case “necessary” seems to mean because it is Infantino who is on trial.
Last week, the Swiss parliament appointed judge Stefan Keller as extraordinary federal prosecutor for the criminal investigations against Infantino, his private legal advisor Rinaldo Arnold and the ex-chief prosecutor of Switzerland (allegedly corrupted by Infantino), Michael Lauber.
Fifa, it has now emerged, has been trying to sabotage Stefan Keller’s appointment, and there has been a huge media campaign raised against Keller. This campaign didn’t reach England of course, where the universal policy is to pretend that the whole affair is not happening, there is no legal case, and everything in Fifa is wonderful, and the FA is right to spend tax payers’ money supporting Fifa.
The anti-Keller policy failed and he was then confirmed in his appointment although not before some confidential internal reports of the judicial commission had been leaked to the press.
But the fact the Fifa has been running a scurrilous campaign of personal attacks on the prosecutor in their case shows how desperate and dirty this is getting. They called him a “part-time judge,” noted he was from a rural agricultural part of the country, and allegedly put letters to Infantino in military envelopes and stamped them with German stamps and postmarks!!! (They probably also accused him of eating an unpatriotic breakfast cereal).
Even with the wild and wacky media in England we don’t get those sorts of accusations against judges – and maybe it is good after all that the media in England are totally ignoring the impeding collapse of Fifa – otherwise they might start getting some ideas on how to report legal cases themselves.
This whole process has got so bizarre that advisers to Infantino have been trying to undermine and replace the judge suggesting that such a complex case needs someone with more experience to oversee it. It has also been noted that as a special investigator Keller has been given a substantial budget, and might not be able to spend it properly.
So here we have Fifa, itself accused of corrupting the Swiss legal system, accusing the Swiss legal system of employing a prosecutor who might not know how to spend his budget properly! It surely can’t get any wilder than this.
The response came in a statement from the prosecution saying, “If Mr. Keller were as bad a public prosecutor as the defence is trying to suggest, surely the defence would have to be happy about it, since the defence could fight the prosecution on each point of procedure and win.”
Parliament agreed and the special investigator was not only given a strong vote of approval but also an increased budget for the next two years.
In Switzerland the feeling is that the prospects for Infantino are now very bleak indeed, with him now accused of inciting abuse of office, as well as improper behaviour in relation to a whole range of internal Fifa matters.
Infantino said, however, most recently at the Fifa Congress, that there is no basis for the investigation into his affairs and that private meetings between the head of the Swiss legal system and the head of Fifa, without notes being taken and without anyone else being present, are normal. In short he said, there is a conspiracy against him.
The big problem for Infantino is not that he sounds like a conspiracy theorist launching wild accusations at every turn, the simple fact (already admitted on all sides) is that the secret meetings with the now disgraced ex-chief prosecutor Michael Lauber were not officially arranged through Fifa, but rather discreetly arranged by Infantino’s friend Arnold.
What’s more Lauber did not take minutes of any of the meetings, and everyone involved claimed to have forgotten one particular and very long meeting in 2017 in Bern. This was at the same time that Lauber was investigating a TV contract signed by Infantino himself (while he was at Uefa) – a contract signed with people since also accused of corruption in terms of broadcast rights.
At that time, Infantino even wrote in an email to Arnold saying that he wanted to explain his view of the delicate matter to the investigators at an upcoming meeting with Lauber.
Increasingly the feeling is that the men accused here have existed in a world of supreme arrogance in which Fifa is able to do what it wants, when it wants, how it wants.
Gradually step by step the entire edifice is being undermined. It’s collapse now seems inevitable.
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- Beyond any doubt Infantino is getting his way. Next: Fifa will leave Zurich