FIFA president Gianni Infantino was under investigation by the organisation’s ethics committee for more than one separate alleged instance of malpractice when he organised the sudden removal of the committee chairmen and members last month.
According to a report by ‘The Guardian’, it learned that the Swiss prosecutor Cornel Borbély, who was chairman of the ethics committee’s “investigatory chamber”, had begun examining complaints that Infantino and the Fifa general secretary, Fatma Samoura, improperly sought to influence the election in March of their favoured candidate for president of the Confederation of African Football (CAF), Ahmad Ahmad .
The allegations are understood to include claims from senior figures in African football that Infantino and Samoura promised FA presidents, in a series of private meetings, that they could accelerate the payment of Fifa development money to their football associations if the presidents voted for Ahmad.
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Infantino is said to have manoeuvred for the ousting of the longstanding CAF president, Issa Hayatou, because Hayatou did not support him in the Fifa presidential election last year, instead endorsing the rival candidate, Sheikh Salman bin Ibrahim al-Khalifa of Bahrain.
Borbély is also understood to have been in the early stages of an investigation into a further possible ethics breach by Infantino.
Infantino’s opportunity to claim the highest office in football administration landed because the ethics committee in December 2015 banned the previous Fifa president, Sepp Blatter, and the favourite to succeed him, the then Uefa president Michel Platini, for malpractice.
After he was elected president in February 2016, Infantino was cleared of ethics breaches following an investigation relating mainly to his acceptance of two private jet flights, but some Fifa sources have said he was furious and indignant at being investigated at all.
At the Fifa congress in Bahrain last month, neither Borbély nor Hans-Joachim Eckert, the former German judge who chaired the ethics committee’s “adjudicatory chamber”, which assesses the investigations and decides on sanctions, were given any notice that their four-year terms were not going to be renewed.
The council members, including the English FA and Uefa representative David Gill, formerly Manchester United’s chief executive, who are paid $300,000 (£235,000) annually plus daily allowances for attending meetings, approved the non‑renewal of Eckert and Borbély apparently without asking any questions. Gill said at the time that the new appointees had good credentials, and there was no automatic right for the serving chairmen to have their terms renewed.
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Eckert and Borbély responded indignantly, saying that they had been working on “hundreds of cases” of potential Fifa‑related malpractice which would now be set back. They argued that their removal “incapacitated” and “neutralised” the integrity of the whole semi-independent reform process introduced after Fifa was brought to near collapse last year by multiple corruption scandals. Infantino responded at the Congress by questioning the two men’s efficacy, and denounced “fake news” and alleged “Fifa bashing”.
The investigations into Infantino are now said to have stalled and in effect stopped.
Responding to the revelation that Infantino himself was under two investigations at the time Borbély and Eckert were removed, Fifa said: “We will not comment on baseless speculations, which are unfortunately put forward only for ill-intended purposes.”
With inputs from agencies.