GENEVA (AP) – FIFA president Gianni Infantino can continue in office while under criminal investigation in Switzerland, the soccer body’s ethics committee ruled Wednesday. Preliminary investigations into Infantino’s conduct — relating to his undisclosed meetings with Swiss attorney general Michael Lauber and taking a private flight on FIFA business from the Caribbean to Geneva — have been closed.
In a statement published by FIFA, chief ethics investigator Maria Claudia Rojas noted “the evident lack of a prima facie case regarding any alleged breach of the FIFA Code of Ethics.”
Rojas ruled that not even a provisional suspension from duty was required.
The decision was published just three weeks after a criminal proceeding was opened against Infantino by a Swiss special prosecutor. He assessed several complaints about the FIFA leader’s meetings in 2016 and 2017 with the attorney general, Michael Lauber, and possible abuse of public office.
Still, the ethics ruling was expected after FIFA defended its president in a robust and at times testy way in recent weeks.
Infantino was cleared in the internal investigation hours after FIFA published the agenda for its remote congress he will chair online from Zurich on Sept. 18.
It also came on the day a Swiss parliamentary commission confirmed Lauber would leave his job on Aug. 31. Lauber offered his resignation last month after a disciplinary sanction was not overturned on appeal.
Lauber oversaw, and was later recused from, a sprawling investigation of alleged corruption linked to FIFA and soccer officials since 2014. It has yet to bring any convictions and few charges in Switzerland. Meanwhile, dozens of officials were convicted, made guilty pleas or were indicted by the U.S. Department of Justice.
Two meetings between Lauber and Infantino in 2016 were revealed more than two years later in confidential documents leaked to a German magazine. A third meeting in 2017 stayed secret until Swiss media reports several months after the leaks.
Lauber’s lack of candor about those meetings, and their content, led to his ousting. FIFA has said the special prosecutor, Stefan Keller, wrote to Infantino saying he cannot “exclude the possibility that something criminal might have been discussed you can’t remember.” Infantino has denied all wrongdoing and called the investigations “absurd.”