Infantino’s Fifa ‘incapacitated’ corruption fight, say ousted ethics chairmen

• Cornel Borbély and Hans-Joachim Eckert hit out at decision
• Ousted pair say hundreds of ongoing cases ongoing will now be stalled for years

Football’s world governing body, Fifa, has “neutralised” and “incapacitated” its corruption investigations after removing the chairmen and all but two members of its ethics committee, the two ousted chairmen said the day before the organisation’s congress in Bahrain.

The Swiss prosecutor Cornel Borbély, who has headed multiple ethics committee investigations in recent years – including into the former Fifa president Sepp Blatter – and Hans-Joachim Eckert, the former German judge who chaired the committee’s adjudicatory chamber, which decides on sanctions, said they had “hundreds of cases” ongoing that will now be stalled for years.

In an indignant and forthright press conference held in a bare room on the 13th floor of a tower block in Bahrain, where Fifa and worldwide football association officials have gathered for the annual congress on Thursday, Eckert and Borbély complained that they were given no notice that they are to be replaced.

Both men said the suddenness of their removal and the lack of explanation led them to conclude it was “political”, and that Fifa, now led by the president, Gianni Infantino, no longer wants an independent body investigating corruption, even after the devastating scandals of recent years.

They declined, however, to discuss individual cases that are pending or which they have investigated, or to respond to suggestions that Infantino became opposed to them when the ethics committee mounted a preliminary investigation into his acceptance of flights on private planes, which ultimately cleared him of wrongdoing.

Borbély said this view was also reinforced by the removal as chairman of the governance committee of Miguel Maduro, the Portuguese politician who headed the bold decision in March to refuse the Russian deputy prime minister, Vitaly Mutko, clearance to stand again for the Fifa council.

That was because of Mutko’s active political position being in conflict with Fifa’s non‑political rules but it was seen as robust, given Russia’s geo-political power and its hosting of the World Cup next year.

Arguing that the independent ethics committee and reform process begun by Blatter, with which Infantino is now entrusted, has been “weakened” and is a “dead letter”, Borbély pointed to the investigations and bans of Blatter himself, the former Uefa president Michel Platini and ex-Fifa general secretary Jérôme Valcke, saying: “This is a huge setback. The reform process has at least stepped backwards for several years.”

The two chairmen have been removed by the Fifa council, which will not nominate them for re-election by the congress now their four-year terms have been completed. This system of nomination by the council and election by the congress was introduced last year, aimed at securing more independence into investigations of corruption.

The two nominees proposed to replace Borbély and Eckert are Maria Claudia Rojas, the former president of the council of state in Columbia, to chair the ethics committee’s investigatory chamber, and Vassilios Skouris, the former president of the European court of justice.

Eckert and Borbély said that of the other six members of the investigatory chamber, and seven in the adjudicatory chamber, only two are being put forward for re-election: the Canadian Bruno de Vita and Jack Kariko from Papua New Guinea.

Cornel and Borbély said this meant that years of collective experience in bringing difficult cases, which have produced some substantial conclusions and bans of major figures, and been upheld by the court of arbritration for sport, will be lost.

The Concacaf president, Victor Montagliani, a member of the council that took the decision to replace Eckert and Borbély, defended the decision, denying that it was politically motivated.

“It’s not like we replaced them with non-independent people,” he told the BBC. “They were replaced by two independent people of very high quality and standards. And so with all due respect, and they may be disappointed that they wanted to continue in the role, there’s a lot of chairmen of a lot of other committees that want to continue as well. But at the end of the day Fifa and any other organisation has the right to change people on the committees.”

Fifa later said that the proposed list of candidates was agreed after a thorough consultation process involving the six confederations, and unanimously agreed by the Fifa Council. “These individuals have been chosen because they are recognised, high-profile experts in their respective fields,” it added. “Moreover, they better reflect the geographic and gender diversity that must be a part of an international organisation like Fifa.”


David Conn

The GuardianTramp

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