FIFA president Gianni Infantino's
troubles got a lot worse on Thursday when criminal proceedings were opened against him by a special Swiss prosecutor looking into his dealings with Swiss attorney general Michael Lauber.
The move by Swiss Supreme Court president Stefan Keller, appointed as the special prosecutor in July, came after he reviewed two complaints made against Infantino, Lauber and Rinaldo Arnold, Infantino’s childhood friend accused of helping arrange meetings between Infantino and Lauber. Keller is seeking parliamentary approval to have Lauber’s immunity from prosecution be lifted so he could be investigated.
“This concerns abuse of public office, breach of official secrecy, assisting offenders and incitement to these acts,” the watchdog agency (AB-BA) overseeing the Swiss attorney general's office (OAG) said in a statement.
FIFA responded in a statement that its organization, including Infantino, "remains at the disposal of the Swiss authorities and will, as we have always done, cooperate fully with this investigation."
In June, Soccer America's Ian Plenderleith examined the investigations closing in on Infantino.
They stem from the Panama Papers and later Football Leaks revelations regarding the OAG's investigations into soccer corruption and meetings between Lauber and Infantino that took place in 2015-17.
Three key questions need to be answered:
1. Why should Infantino have been worried enough to meet with Lauber?
Based on emails Football Leaks obtained and were released by European media, Lauber's office was looking into a 2006 contract negotiated by Team Marketing on behalf of UEFA for the media rights to the Champions League in Ecuador.
In 2016, shortly after Infantino became FIFA president, the Panama Papers revealed that the rights were sold to a soccer media rights company, Cross Trading, that was owned by Argentine Hugo Jinkis. Jinkis and his son Mariano Jinkis were indicted by U.S. authorities in 2015 on charges of being two of the masterminds in soccer corruption in South America and Concacaf.
The Panama Papers revealed that Cross Trading made a $200,000 profit on the rights it paid $111,000 for when it sold them to Teleamazonas, an Ecuadoran television network, but there was never any suggestion of corruption in the two deals, between Team Marketing and UEFA and Cross Trading or Cross Trading and Teleamazonas.
Infantino was working at UEFA as its director of legal service and reviewed and signed the contract. He said in 2016 that there was nothing wrong with how UEFA conducted itself in dealing with the contract, which would have been like dozens of other contracts that came across his desk.
2. Why should everyone have had "amnesia" about a meeting if it was perfectly legitimate and perfectly legal?
Lauber has been the primary target of the investigation. In March 2020, the AB-BA found the attorney general had committed repeated violations of his responsibilities in meetings with Infantino and ordered his salary be reduced by 8 percent. Lauber appealed, and a Swiss tribunal on July 22 reduced his pay cut to 3 percent after it found some of the charges were unfounded.
But it upheld the AB-BA's central findings. It said Lauber, who now plans on resigning, deliberately hid the truth to Swiss investigators about a third meeting with Infantino at which five people attended. Four of the men who attended the meeting couldn't remember anything about it. The tribunal's view: “According to general life experience, such a case of collective amnesia is an aberration."
The fifth person at the meeting has never been revealed, but European newspapers suggest that he was Cedric Remund, the investigator looking into FIFA corruption.
Infantino's view is that it was “perfectly legitimate and perfectly legal” to meet the Swiss attorney general and "not a violation of anything." If so, why everyone's amnesia about the meeting?
3. Will FIFA’s Ethics Committee suspend Infantino for 90 days like it did Sepp Blatter and Michel Platini in 2015?
If you believe those who follow FIFA politics, the person behind the complaints filed against Infantino was Sepp Blatter, who was FIFA president until October 2015 when Michel Platini, then UEFA president, and Blatter were suspended by FIFA's Ethics Committee for 90 days after the same Swiss attorney general’s office that is investigating Infantino, Lauber and Arnold opened an investigation into Blatter over FIFA payments made to Platini.
Blatter’s lawyers argued that he was presumed to be innocent of the charges in the Swiss attorney general’s office investigation and therefore he shouldn't have been suspended while the Ethics Committee conducted its own investigation into the Blatter-Platini affair. That appeal was denied, and in December 2015, the Ethics Committee banned both Blatter and Platini from soccer for eight years, removing them from their positions, killing Platini's bid to succeed the embattled Blatter and opening the door, as it turned out, for Infantino's election in February 2016. (And the Swiss attorney general’s office investigation into Blatter? Five years later, it still remains open.)
The next big event on the FIFA calendar is the FIFA Congress – originally scheduled to be hosted in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, in June but now scheduled to be held as an online meeting on Sept. 18. Should Infantino be allowed to preside over the meeting or should he be suspended like Blatter and Platini were in similar circumstances?
What's sauce for the goose is sauce for the gander?