On July 30, 2020, a Swiss special prosecutor initiated criminal proceedings against Gianni Infantino for alleged collusion with Michael Lauber, the attorney general of Switzerland who was overseeing the investigation into FIFA.
Infantino is the successor to Sep Blatter, who resigned in 2016 after revelations of corruption at FIFA caused a global media storm for soccer’s global governing body.
The special prosecutor who announced the investigation, Stefan Keller, described the meetings between Infantino and Lauber as “abuse of office,” “breach of official secrecy,” and “assisting offenders.” However, Lauber has immunity from the criminal charges. Keller is requesting the Swiss government lift his immunity.
Rinaldo Arnold, who is a regional prosecutor in Switzerland and a childhood friend of Infantino, set up the meetings between the two men. Arnold is also under investigation, though he has not been charged.
Lauber subsequently lied about those meetings. Emails concerning the meetings appeared on the platform “Football Leaks” over a year ago, but both Infantino and Lauber claimed they were unable to remember what had taken place at the meetings.
After the emails came to light, a supervisory body was convened to look into Lauber’s relationship with Infantino. The panel announced, “Lauber intentionally made a false statement… and knowingly concealed the third meeting with Infantino.” In March, 2020 the supervisory body cut Lauber’s salary by 8 percent as punishment, but it has restored his salary since then.
Lauber has resigned from his position, after a federal court upheld the accusations against him.
Infantino responded, “To meet with the Attorney General of Switzerland is perfectly legitimate and it’s perfectly legal. It’s no violation of anything. On the contrary, it is also part of the fiduciary duties of the President of FIFA.”
FIFA has been embroiled in accusations of money laundering and corruption since 2015. Infantino, who ran unopposed in an internal election in 2016, has claimed that the organization no longer suffers from a culture of corruption. But high level officials in FIFA remain subject to investigations for various accusations of financial wrongdoing and corruption. The head of African soccer, Ahmad Ahmad, has been under investigation by French financial prosecutors for over a year.
Nevertheless, the proceedings against Infantino suggest that authorities are responding more swiftly to problems at the organization than they did in 2014 when FIFA first complained about money laundering in the 2018 and 2022 World Cup bidding campaigns. The organization will remain under intense scrutiny.