Prosecutor to probe attorney general-FIFA president meetings

Sports

FIFA President Gianni Infantino addresses a meeting of European soccer leaders at the congress of the UEFA governing body in Amsterdam’s Beurs van Berlage, Netherlands, Tuesday, March 3, 2020. (AP Photo/Peter Dejong)

GENEVA (AP) — A special prosecutor has been appointed in Switzerland to assess complaints about alleged criminal conduct when attorney general Michael Lauber had undisclosed meetings with FIFA president Gianni Infantino.

A Swiss government panel overseeing the federal prosecution office on Friday said it had this week appointed Stefan Keller to evaluate four complaints filed by unidentified people.

The statement gave no timetable for Keller to either dismiss the complaints as unfounded or recommend further investigations.

Lauber and Infantino met twice in 2016, soon after the FIFA president was elected, and again in June 2017 while the attorney general controlled a sprawling investigation into corruption linked to the governing body of soccer and officials worldwide.

Criminal proceedings are currently open against three former FIFA officials, including Infantino predecessor Sepp Blatter and Qatari soccer and television executive Nasser al-Khelaifi. They all deny wrongdoing.

Asked last week about the formal complaints and suggestion of collusion with Lauber, Infantino said “this whole thing is quite absurd.”

“To meet with the head prosecutor or attorney general of Switzerland is perfectly legitimate and it’s perfectly legal,” the FIFA president said on June 25 during a news conference held online.

FIFA said Friday it welcomed Keller’s appointment, adding it was “also in FIFA’s best interests for the anonymous complaints to be investigated as quickly as possible.”

The 2016 meetings were revealed in November 2018 by the Football Leaks series published by a German magazine which obtained confidential emails and documents in the soccer industry.

Lauber and Infantino both said the 2016 meetings were routine to ensure cooperation in the wider case. Neither acknowledged the third meeting that was reported by Swiss media several months later.

Lauber was disciplined in March by the oversight panel for his conduct during the FIFA investigation, obstructing the in-house probe, and failing to tell the truth about the June 2017 meeting with Infantino.

The attorney general is appealing against that ruling and a one-time deduction of 8% from his near 300,000 Swiss franc ($300,000) salary.

While under the internal disciplinary investigation, Lauber was both recused from FIFA investigations by a federal court and re-elected for a four-year mandate by Swiss lawmakers.

FIFA said Infantino was the target of previous anonymous complaints which “have been dismissed as unfounded by the relevant authorities.”

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