Special prosecutor Stefan Keller, who was appointed as extraordinary prosecutor to review complaints against Infantino and the Swiss attorney general, Michael Lauber, said he had found indications of possible criminal conduct related to undisclosed meetings, the authority overseeing Switzerland’s federal prosecutors said on Thursday.
Keller has also commenced proceedings against Rinaldo Arnold, the chief public prosecutor of Upper Valais, and has requested permission to open a legal case against Lauber.
The Swiss Federal Council said on Thursday that Keller “reached the conclusion that, in connection with the meetings between Attorney General Michael Lauber and the Fifa president Gianni Infantino and the Chief Public Prosecutor of the Upper Valais, there are indications of criminal conduct”.
The allegations made against Infantino and Arnold “concerns abuse of public office, breach of official secrecy, assisting offenders and incitement to these acts”, the statement added.
Keller was appointed last week to look into dealings between Infantino and the Swiss Attorney General Lauber – who last week offered his resignation – over an undisclosed meeting in June 2017. It’s alleged that they held three closed-door meetings regarding the status of the corruption inquiry, in which no notes were taken.
A court concluded last week that Lauber had covered up the meeting and lied to his supervisors while his office investigated corruption allegations surrounding the football governing body.
Lauber has denied any wrongdoing, but in March he was sanctioned for disloyalty, lying and breaching his office’s code of conduct. Lauber has also had his salary cut for a year after a watchdog group found he repeatedly told falsehoods and broke a prosecutors’ code of conduct.
Last month, Lauber became the subject of an impeachment process relating to his handling of the Fifa inquiry.
Both Infantino and Lauber have previously denied wrongdoing. “To meet with the Attorney General of Switzerland is perfectly legitimate and it’s perfectly legal,” Infantino said earlier this month. ”It’s no violation of anything. On the contrary, it is also part of the fiduciary duties of the President of Fifa.”
When contacted by The Independent, Fifa said: “Fifa acknowledges the decision of the Swiss Special Federal Public Prosecutor in opening an investigation regarding the meetings involving the Fifa president Gianni Infantino and the Swiss Attorney General Michael Lauber. Fifa, including the Fifa president, remains at the disposal of the Swiss authorities and will, as we have always done, cooperate fully with this investigation.”
Infantino explained that his meetings with Lauber were an attempt to clean up Fifa following the 2015 corruption scandal, and were “part of the fiduciary duties” of the Fifa president.
"People remember well where Fifa was as an institution back in 2015, and how substantial judicial intervention was actually required to help restore the credibility of the organisation,” Infantino said in a statement.
“As president of Fifa, it has been my aim from day one, and it remains my aim, to assist the authorities with investigating past wrongdoings at Fifa. Fifa officials have met with prosecutors in other jurisdictions across the world for exactly these purposes. People have been convicted and sentenced, thanks to Fifa’s cooperation, and especially in the United States of America, where our cooperation has resulted in over 40 criminal convictions. Therefore, I remain fully supportive of the judicial process, and Fifa remains willing to fully cooperate with the Swiss authorities for these purposes."
Speaking on 25 June 2020 in relation to the meetings with Lauber, which was reiterated by Fifa following the criminal proceedings, Infantino said: "To meet with the Attorney General of Switzerland is perfectly legitimate and it’s perfectly legal. It’s no violation of anything. On the contrary, it is also part of the fiduciary duties of the president of Fifa."
He added: "There was a mountain of questions. So it’s legitimate to offer to contribute to the Swiss Attorney General about the clarification of these events, hoping that those who have done criminal acts and damaged Fifa will be held to account for that."
Lauber’s office was aware of the appointment of Keller as special prosecutor, but has declined to comment.
Arnold, who is from the same area of Switzerland as Infantino and is a personal friend of the Fifa president, has been accused by Swiss social democrat politician Gilbert Truffer of facilitating at least one of the meetings between Infantino and Lauber, with Arnold reported to have first spoken with the Attorney General in July 2015 while Infantino was still General Secretary of Uefa – eight months before he replaced the disgraced Sepp Blatter as Fifa president.
Blatter was forced to resign as head of world football the year before over corruption allegations, and in December 2015 he was banned from all football-related activities for eight years, later reduced to six on appeal.
Speaking in 2016 after he was appointed as Blatter’s successor at a Fifa Congress meeting, Infantino said: “I cannot express my feelings in this moment. We will restore the image and the respect of Fifa and everyone in the world will applaud us.
“We are finally going to ensure that we can once again focus on the beautiful game of football.”
Under the Fifa Ethics Committee’s own statutes, any official facing criminal proceedings must be temporarily suspended pending outcome of the investigation.