A New York University law professor who resigned his post on a FIFA governance committee in May has filed an ethics complaint against FIFA’s top leadership, he said Wednesday. In it, he claims FIFA’s president, Gianni Infantino, the president’s top deputy and other senior officials at world soccer’s governing body improperly intervened in their committee’s work to block scrutiny of senior soccer executives.
The complaint by the professor, Joseph Weiler, was revealed the same day the former chairman of FIFA’s governance committee, Miguel Maduro, told a British parliamentary hearing that Infantino; the FIFA secretary general, Fatma Samoura; and others tried to dissuade governance officials from blocking Russia’s deputy prime minister, Vitaly Mutko, from running for a position on the organization’s ruling council.
Weiler and three other members of Maduro’s committee resigned in May after Infantino fired Maduro — only eight months after hiring him.
The complaint, confirmed by Weiler in a phone interview, and Maduro’s testimony raised new questions about Infantino’s leadership of FIFA and its commitment to ethical governance. They also highlighted the continuing difficulties that world soccer’s governing body faces to reform itself two years after a massive corruption scandal in 2015 led to the ouster of most of its senior leadership.
“It was filed in the last few days,” Weiler said in his first comments on the ethics complaint. He said his complaint covered a series of claims made to the British parliamentary panel by Maduro, who was speaking under a type of immunity given to witnesses and meant to shield them from legal action.
FIFA declined to comment on Weiler’s complaint, or even confirm that it had been filed with the ethics committee. But it dismissed Maduro’s remarks, saying that the organization has always “respected” its committee’s decisions and that Maduro’s accusations of improper influence were “factually incorrect.”
“For Miguel Maduro to be in regular contact with the FIFA administration, sometimes under his own initiative and in order to seek advice, was normal in the course of his work,” FIFA said. “Exchange between the administration and FIFA’s committees, which in the end all defend FIFA’s interests, are logical and even desirable, so for these exchanges to be portrayed as undue influence is factually incorrect.”
Maduro’s appearance in London on Tuesday lasted about an hour and outlined how control is exerted by powerful figures in world soccer at the international and regional level. He testified that Infantino opted to bow to pressure from senior soccer figures rather than uphold the organization’s regulations, saying that Infantino “chose to politically survive” rather than adhere to his pledges of reform.
In the Mutko case, Maduro said Infantino dispatched Samoura and Tomaz Vesel, the independent chairman of FIFA’s audit and compliance committee, to Brussels to make Infantino’s case to allow Mutko to stand for election. Maduro said Vesel told him that he felt “very uncomfortable” about making the request, but that Infantino had asked him to travel to Brussels, where Maduro was on business unrelated to FIFA.
Maduro said Samoura, FIFA’s No. 2 official, warned him about the implications of not allowing Mutko to stand in the election, telling him to “find a solution, or the presidency would be in question and the World Cup would be a disaster.”
Maduro’s committee stood firm, declaring in March that Mutko, because of his role as Russia’s deputy prime minister, could not stand because of FIFA’s rules on political neutrality. Maduro described Infantino as “not comfortable” with the decision.
It is unclear whether Russia has created difficulties for FIFA, though a deal to broadcast next summer’s World Cup has still to be signed, while local sponsors have largely avoided backing the 32-team tournament. Russia is likely to have a member on the FIFA Council later this month after the head of its World Cup organizing committee stepped up to replace an Icelandic official who surprisingly decided not to stand.
“All of this information that I gave is known by FIFA,” Weiler said. “I was hoping to see there would be action,” he added, but when there was none, he formally informed the ethics committee.
“I want to believe the ethics committee will not remain indifferent to these issues and there will be serious investigations,” Weiler said.
A former government minister in Portugal and a onetime attorney general of the European Court of Justice, Maduro was hired to help reform FIFA’s image, and Infantino pointed to his election as chairman of the governance committee, in May 2016, as an example of a newfound commitment to good governance, transparency and reform.
In his testimony, Maduro also highlighted cases of what he said were electoral abuses in regional confederations. In one example, he said a complaint had been made that Hany Abo Rida of Egypt had flown delegates to Cairo for a party before winning election to the FIFA Council in May. In another, Maduro’s committee questioned top Asian soccer officials about efforts to restrict the number of female representatives on the FIFA Council. Maduro also described how officials’ votes in elections were monitored through the use of colored pens.
Maduro also told the lawmakers how the well-connected Kuwaiti Sheik Ahmad al-Fahad al-Sabah withdrew from consideration for a place on the FIFA Council after the governance committee asked him to resubmit for an integrity check after he was identified as a co-conspirator by the United States Department of Justice in a sports corruption indictment. Those checks were never completed, Maduro said, because Sabah dropped his candidacy and resigned from all of his soccer roles.
FIFA removed Maduro earlier this year at the time it fired its top ethics investigator, Cornel Borbely, and the German judge who ran the committee’s adjudicatory chamber, Hans-Joachim Eckert. At the time, FIFA said that the changes were made to better reflect geographic and gender diversity on its committees.
But news media reports suggested Borbely and Eckert were removed after 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.
The parliamentary committee had hoped to have Borbely testify under the same guarantees given to Maduro, but FIFA, in a letter signed by Samoura, blocked his appearance. In the letter, FIFA said that even though Borbely no longer worked for FIFA, he “remains bound by his duty of confidentiality also after the end of his term.”
That could be why Weiler, a governance expert, took his complaint through official channels, even as he expressed his continuing concern about FIFA’s ability to embrace reform from within.
“In light of my experience on the governance committee, I have very serious doubts about FIFA’s ability to reform under its current leadership,” Weiler said.