The Swiss special prosecutor has opened criminal proceedings against FIFA president Gianni Infantino relating to dealings with the country’s attorney general Michael Lauber.
Lauber offered to resign from his position last week after a court claimed he covered up undisclosed meetings with the head of football’s governing body and lied to supervisors while his office probed alleged corruption relating to FIFA.
Stefan Keller was appointed as special prosecutor to review criminal complaints against Infantino, Lauber and other individuals. Proceedings have consequently commenced against Infantino and the chief public prosecutor of Upper Valais, Rinaldo Arnold.
Keller has also requested permission to open proceedings against Lauber.
A statement from the Swiss Federal Council said Keller had “reached the conclusion that, in connection with the meetings between Attorney General Lauber and FIFA president Gianni Infantino and the chief public prosecutor of the Upper Valais, there are indications of criminal conduct”.
Both Infantino and Lauber have denied any wrongdoing.
The Federal Council statement added: “The presumption of innocence applies to attorney general Michael Lauber, FIFA president Gianni Infantino and chief public prosecutor Rinaldo Arnold. The special federal public prosecutor is independent in his activities.”
The allegations against Infantino and Arnold “concern abuse of public office, breach of official secrecy, assisting offenders and incitement to these acts”, the statement said.
Responding to Thursday’s news, Infantino said: “People remember well where FIFA was as an institution back in 2015, and how substantial judicial intervention was actually required to help restore the credibility of the organisation.
“As President of FIFA, it has been my aim from day one, and it remains my aim, to assist the authorities with investigating past wrongdoings at FIFA. FIFA officials have met with prosecutors in other jurisdictions across the world for exactly these purposes.
“People have been convicted and sentenced, thanks to FIFA’s cooperation, and especially in the United States of America, where our cooperation has resulted in over 40 criminal convictions. Therefore, I remain fully supportive of the judicial process, and FIFA remains willing to fully cooperate with the Swiss authorities for these purposes.”
A statement from the governing body itself read: “FIFA acknowledges the decision of the Swiss Special Federal Public Prosecutor in opening an investigation regarding the meetings involving the FIFA president and the Swiss attorney general.
“FIFA, including the FIFA President, remains at the disposal of the Swiss authorities and will, as we have always done, cooperate fully with this investigation.”
Last month, Infantino said: “To meet with the head prosecutor or attorney general of Switzerland is perfectly legitimate and it’s perfectly legal.”
Infantino became FIFA president in 2016, after his predecessor Sepp Blatter was forced to resign the year before over corruption allegations. In December 2015, Blatter was banned from all football-related activities for eight years, later reduced to six on appeal.
Speaking in 2016 after his appointment as Blatter’s successor at a FIFA Congress meeting, Infantino said: “I cannot express my feelings in this moment. We will restore the image and the respect of FIFA and everyone in the world will applaud us. We are finally going to ensure that we can once again focus on the beautiful game of football.”
Infantino, who previously worked as secretary general of UEFA, was subsequently reelected to his post at FIFA in June 2019, and in January of this year was elected as a member of the International Olympic Committee (IOC).