ZURICH (Reuters) - Criminal proceedings have been opened against FIFA president Gianni Infantino by a special prosecutor looking into dealings between the head of the global soccer body and Swiss Attorney General Michael Lauber, Swiss authorities said on Thursday.
The special prosecutor Stefan Keller, appointed last month to review complaints against the two men and others, had found indications of criminal conduct related to their meetings, according to the AB-BA watchdog which oversees the Attorney General’s Office.
“This concerns abuse of public office, breach of official secrecy, assisting offenders and incitement to these acts,” the watchdog said in a statement. Both Lauber and Infantino have denied wrongdoing.
FIFA said in a statement that it would cooperate fully while Infantino said that it was “perfectly legitimate and perfectly legal” to meet the Swiss Attorney General. “It’s not a violation of anything,” he said.
“It has been my aim from day one, and it remains my aim, to assist the authorities with investigating past wrongdoings at FIFA,” he added. “FIFA officials have met with prosecutors in other jurisdictions across the world for exactly these purposes.”
Infantino was elected in 2016 to replace disgraced Sepp Blatter, who also become the subject of criminal proceedings in 2015.
Blatter, suspected of criminal mismanagement, was banned by FIFA’s own ethics committee although the investigations against him are still ongoing and he has not been charged. He denies wrongdoing.
On being elected, Infantino promised to clean up FIFA and to put the focus back on football.
FIFA was embroiled in the worst corruption scandal in its history in 2015 which led to several officials being indicted in the United States on corruption-related charges.
Lauber last week offered to resign after the Federal Administrative Court concluded he had covered up a meeting with Infantino and lied to supervisors while his office investigated corruption surrounding soccer’s governing body..
The court said he had made “implausible” statements about a meeting with Infantino.
While Lauber had acknowledged two meetings with Infantino in 2016, he had denied a third meeting reported by media to have occurred in 2017, prompting a disciplinary probe by the agency that supervises the attorney general’s office.
He later said he did not recall the third meeting but that it must have occurred based on diary entries and text messages.
Lauber officially tendered his resignation on Tuesday, his office said, with his last day of active duty set for Aug. 31.
The AB-BA watchdog said Keller had now opened proceedings against both Infantino and regional public prosecutor Rinaldo Arnold who was involved in the meetings, and was seeking parliamentary approval to have Lauber’s immunity from prosecution waived.
“I take note of the fact that a lawsuit has been opened. This is actually a logical step to clarify the facts,” Arnold told Reuters. “It should be mentioned that a case against me was closed last spring last year.”
Reporting by Brenna Hughes Neghaiwi and Brian Homewood; additional reporting by Silke Koltrowitz; editing by Thomas Seythal Michael Shields and Christian Radnedge
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