FIFA open to help fund anti-corruption agency for sports

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VIENNA — FIFA would help fund a global agency to tackle corruption in sport, its president Gianni Infantino said Monday.

Creating a body like the World Anti-Doping Agency to address financial corruption, match-fixing and the influence of organized crime in sport has been talked about for more than a decade without a detailed proposal.

“We at FIFA are ready to invest in it,” Infantino said, suggesting “maybe the creation of such an agency would help make sport safe in the decades to come.”

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As Infantino spoke at a United Nations event in Austria, the corruption trial was opening in Switzerland of three men, including Qatari soccer and television executive Nasser al-Khelaifi and former FIFA secretary general Jerome Valcke.

Their case arose from years-long American and Swiss investigations of suspected corruption in soccer that removed a generation of international leaders from office and helped lift Infantino to the FIFA presidency in 2016.

His funding pledge was made when signing a cooperation agreement between FIFA and the Vienna-based UN Office on Drugs and Crime, which connects international officials and programs.

Speakers at the event included diplomats from Russia and Qatar, winners of the 2018 and 2022 World Cup hosting votes in 2010 that FIFA later asked Swiss federal prosecutors to investigate.

No convictions have been secured in Switzerland, though criminal proceedings are also open against Infantino’s predecessor Sepp Blatter and former UEFA President Michel Platini for alleged mismanagement of FIFA funds not directly linked to World Cup bidding. They were questioned in the past two weeks.

“Never again. Never again corruption in football,” said Infantino, who is himself under investigation in Switzerland over meetings he had with then-attorney general Michael Lauber.

Lauber left office two weeks ago after being disciplined for failing to declare a June 2017 meeting with Infantino where he took no notes and misleading a subsequent internal investigation.

Sepp Blatter questioned in FIFA investigation in Switzerland

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BERN, Switzerland — Former FIFA president Sepp Blatter was questioned Tuesday by Swiss investigators about a $2 million payment he authorized in 2011 to then-UEFA president Michel Platini.

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Sepp Blatter was quizzed about suspected criminal mismanagement at FIFA one day after Platini spent about three hours at the offices of Switzerland’s federal prosecutors.

The 84-year-old Blatter waved as he arrived in Bern with his lawyer, Lorenz Erni.

A criminal proceeding has been open against Blatter since the allegation was revealed in September 2015, though it was extended to Platini only three months ago.

Blatter has also been a suspect since May in a second allegation linked to $1 million of FIFA money gifted in 2010 into the control of now-disgraced Caribbean soccer leader Jack Warner.

Blatter has long denied wrongdoing during his 18-year FIFA presidency. His term ended following American and Swiss investigations of corruption in international soccer.

Platini was favored to succeed his former mentor in a February 2016 election until the $2 million allegation ended his campaign.

Blatter instructed FIFA to pay Platini after the French soccer great asked for deferred salary from a decade earlier. Platini had been an advisor in Blatter’s first presidential term from 1998-2002.

The FIFA ethics committee and the Court of Arbitration for Sport ruled there was no valid verbal or written contract to pay the money.

Both men were banned from working in soccer by the FIFA ethics committee and removed from office. Blatter’s six-year ban expires next October.

FIFA: Infantino should remain president during probe

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LONDON (AP) Gianni Infantino can remain FIFA president and should not be forced from power while under criminal investigation, world football’s governing body told The Associated Press on Saturday.

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A Swiss special prosecutor opened a criminal case into Infantino’s conduct on Thursday over his meetings with the country’s attorney general who has been leading a sprawling investigation into football corruption.

“There is nothing preventing the president from performing his duties,” FIFA said in a statement to the AP. “He will continue to fully assume his functions within FIFA.”

The FIFA ethics committee faced calls to suspend Infantino from his predecessor, Sepp Blatter, who was toppled in disgrace in 2015 and banned from world football until 2021.

“The FIFA president is subject to a criminal investigation by the Swiss judicial authorities,” FIFA said, “but he has not been charged nor is he guilty of anything. … FIFA and its President will continue to cooperate fully with the judicial authorities in Switzerland until these investigations are concluded.”

Swiss attorney general Michael Lauber has offered to resign over the case that centers on three meetings he had with Infantino in recent years – including one that he hadn’t disclosed and claimed no memory of.

“FIFA is convinced that at the end of the current investigations it will be confirmed that the FIFA president didn’t do anything wrong by performing his fiduciary duties and meeting the attorney general of Switzerland,” FIFA said.

More AP soccer: https://apnews.com/Soccer and https://twitter.com/AP-Sports

Criminal case opened against FIFA president Infantino

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GENEVA — A criminal case against FIFA president Gianni Infantino was opened Thursday by a Swiss special prosecutor, plunging world soccer’s governing body in a new scandal.

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Special prosecutor Stefan Keller has concluded there is enough evidence to take the case to court after investigating the circumstances of a meeting Infantino had with Swiss attorney general Michael Lauber, who offered his resignation last week.

Keller has uncovered “elements that make up reprehensible behavior,” according to a statement from the Swiss authority overseeing the federal prosecutors office.

Keller opened a criminal case against Infantino as well as Valais prosecutor Rinaldo Arnold, and has sought authorization to open a legal case against Lauber, too, according to a statement from the Swiss authority.

Keller, a legal expert named to the post of special prosecutor on June 29, found possible infractions included abuse of public office, breach of official secrecy, “assisting offenders” and “incitement to these acts,” the supervisory authority for the office of the attorney general said in its statement, adding other criminal acts and proceedings could also be considered.

Suspects in such cases benefit from a presumption of innocence in Switzerland until legal proceedings are completed.

FIFA declined to comment but Infantino said last month “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.

Lauber offered to resign Friday only minutes before a federal court upheld allegations that he lied about a meeting he had with Infantino during a sprawling investigation into soccer corruption. It came in response to Lauber’s appeal against being disciplined in March for misconduct.

The internal disciplinary case against Lauber focused on a meeting he had with Infantino in June 2017 at a hotel in Bern, at which the prosecutor took no notes. They later both said they could not recall their discussion at what was their third meeting in a 15-month period.

“On the basis of general life experience, such a case of collective amnesia is an aberration,” the federal court ruling said last week.

Infantino gained the FIFA presidency in the fallout from the investigations that erupted around the governing body in 2015. FIFA President Sepp Blatter, who had already announced plans to resign in the wake of arrests of dozens of soccer officials, was banned from world football.

Michel Platini, the favorite to succeed Blatter and then serving as UEFA president, was also suspended, which ended his chances of leading FIFA.

In the void, Infantino, who led the UEFA administration as general secretary, saw a route to leading FIFA. The Swiss-Italian was elected in 2016, beating Asian Football Confederation president Sheikh Salman.

The Bahraini is senior vice president of FIFA so would be in line to replace Infantino temporarily if he was suspended due to the criminal case.

Blatter suggests 2022 World Cup could be moved to U.S., other countries

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Former FIFA president Sepp Blatter, who is serving a six-year ban from football, has stated that the awarding of the 2022 World Cup to the United States or other well-developed countries is still a possibility after fresh corruption charges were brought forth by the U.S. Department of Justice.

Last week, Russia and Qatar both released statements denying the charges, but formal proceedings could potentially push through change regarding the upcoming tournament host where years of speculation and conjecture could not.

In an interview with German publication Sport Bild, Blatter inferred that change is still possible and laid out a short list of countries who would be capable of hosting on short notice.  Referencing the joint-bid for the United States to host the 2026 World Cup with Canada and Mexico beginning an expanded field, Blatter suggested that could be formally moved forward.

“Germany could do it. But this would mean the World Cup being staged in Europe again after 2018,” Blatter said. “Europe therefore would not be first choice. The United States could do it instead of 2026. They are capable, it’s not rocket science! Japan could also do it. They also bid to host the 2022 World Cup.”

“Fortunately, the 2022 World Cup will only have 32 teams and not 48 as [FIFA president Gianni Infantino] had planned. The organisational effort would not be bigger than 2018.”

There would still be massive logistical roadblocks to this. As Blatter mentioned, the upcoming 2022 tournament is not yet featuring an expanded field, so filling out a scheduled also playing games in Mexico and Canada could be troublesome with fewer games. If only the United States hosted in 2022 and the 2026 bid was reopened, Mexico and Canada could be left out in the cold, which would clearly not go over well.

Qatar’s denial of the latest allegations was forceful, although their defense continues to shift from “we didn’t do anything wrong” to “you can’t prove it.”

“Despite years of false claims, evidence has never been produced to demonstrate that Qatar won the rights to host the FIFA World Cup 2022 unethically or by means that contravened FIFA’s strict bidding rules,” said the Supreme Committee for Delivery and Legacy in a statement. “The SC maintains that it strictly adhered to all rules and regulations for the 2018/2022 FIFA World Cup bidding process and any claim to the contrary is baseless and will be fiercely contested.”

Still, the pressure is mounting on Qatar to prove its innocence, and the murmurs continue about whether they will actually prove a viable host.