A former chairman of FIFA’s governance committee who accused top FIFA officials of pressuring him to ignore regulations said Saturday that if asked, he would provide specifics at a British parliamentary hearing this week.
The testimony, to be given under a grant of immunity, could raise troubling new ethics questions for FIFA’s president, Gianni Infantino, whose critics remain skeptical of his commitment to leading the organization, world soccer’s governing body, into a new era of transparency and good governance.
The former FIFA official, Miguel Maduro, was appointed by Infantino in 2016 to be the body’s independent head of governance. Maduro’s committee acted as FIFA’s gatekeepers, responsible for conducting eligibility checks on soccer officials before they could win coveted and lucrative places on top committees, including positions on the governing FIFA Council.
But Maduro, a former Portuguese government minister, was fired by Infantino in May after eight months in the job, and after his departure he said his board had come under pressure from senior officials to ignore FIFA rules when it came to the eligibility of certain powerful executives.
Maduro will be questioned by a panel of British lawmakers on Tuesday. Appearing in the House of Commons grants Maduro so-called privileged status, a type of immunity from legal action in Britain on libel claims, allowing him to speak freely — and perhaps provide names and details about events that he would not normally be able to discuss without fear of legal action.
“I have always said that if I was asked to testify in front of a national parliament, then my obligation to cooperate would take precedence,” Maduro said in a telephone interview, his first public comments on Tuesday’s hearing.
Damian Collins, the chairman of Parliament’s culture, media and sport committee, which invited Maduro, described the appearance in London as “really something unique.”
“The level of public interest is so great that he’s decided to cooperate with a parliamentary inquiry and answer questions freely about what he knows from working inside FIFA, something which FIFA has actively restricted anyone from doing,” Collins said.
FIFA’s ethics committee has been made aware of Maduro’s appearance, and it is that body that would be required to scrutinize any claims of wrongdoing that he may make. FIFA declined to comment on Maduro’s planned appearance or his potential testimony.
For Infantino and FIFA, the stakes are high. Infantino won the FIFA presidency in February 2016, less than a year after the United States Department of Justice conducted a series of raids and arrests that toppled the organization’s previous leadership. Infantino has endured a bumpy ride as president, however, with his promises of steering FIFA into an era of transparency frequently undermined by continuing claims of wrongdoing against top soccer officials, as well as the sudden removal of officials hired to ensure that lofty promises of good governance were carried out.
Maduro’s independent review committee, with its responsibility for vetting candidates for FIFA committees, made several decisions that proved internally unpopular, including one to block Russia’s powerful deputy prime minister, Vitaly Mutko, from running for re-election to the FIFA Council. The governance committee also demanded that a well-connected Kuwaiti sheikh, Ahmad al-Fahad al-Sabah, resubmit to an integrity check after he was identified as a co-conspirator in a separate United States soccer corruption case. Al-Sabah quit soccer rather than submit to an ethics check, though he remains a senior figure in the International Olympic Committee. He has denied all accusations of wrongdoing.
Maduro declined to say what he was likely to reveal at Tuesday’s meeting with British lawmakers, but he said he would provide only information about which he had direct knowledge.
When Infantino hired Maduro, who also served as the advocate general of the European Court of Justice, the FIFA president said the appointment highlighted FIFA’s commitment to good governance and its efforts to steer a path beyond its scandal-scarred past. Maduro’s removal, less than a year later, prompted several other independent members of FIFA’s governance panel to quit. They included the New York University professor Joseph Weiler; Navi Pillay, a former United Nations high commissioner for human rights; and the corporate human rights expert Ron Popper.
FIFA’s prosecution of ethics violations remains under a cloud after Infantino also removed the heads of its judicial bodies at the same meeting at which Maduro was replaced. That came amid news media reports that a second ethics probe had started into Infantino’s conduct. He was cleared in an earlier investigation related to complaints about his expenses and his use of private jets.
More revelations could come next week when one of those ousted ethics committee officials, the former chief investigator, Cornel Borbély, is scheduled to speak at a G-20 anticorruption meeting. But first Maduro will have his say.
“I’ll try and contribute from the outside to reform football governance and sports governance in general, because I think there are systemic problems that can only be addressed from outside,” he said.