Swiss law professor Mark Pieth warns that FIFA’s decision to remove ethics chiefs Hans-Joachim Eckert and Cornel Borbely means the reform process is ‘dead’, killed by FIFA President Gianni Infantino.
On Tuesday, the FIFA Council decided not to renew the mandates of FIFA’s ethics investigator Cornel Borbely and chief ethics judge Hans-Joachim Eckert, who had led the clean-up attempt at the organisation. The Zurich-based world football governing body has itself nominated replacements for the pair.
“The reform process is dead,” Pieth told swissinfo.ch on Wednesday. The Swiss law professor has closely followed governance issues at FIFA after he was invited by former president Sepp Blatter to lead a FIFA reform group in 2011.
Pieth said Infantino had effectively killed the process last year after the FIFA Congress in Mexico City gave the FIFA Council the power to appoint or dismiss members of its independent watchdog bodies, such as the ethics committee. Following this, FIFA’s audit and compliance chief Domenico Scala, who was overseeing reforms, resigned.
“Borbely and Eckert, who did a huge amount of work, had hoped to keep their personal independence but failed,” said Pieth.
FIFA reformed the ethics committee in 2012 in response to a series of corruption cases. Borbely and Eckert have overseen the suspension and expulsion of dozens of officials including former FIFA President Sepp Blatter, Secretary General Jerome Valcke and former European soccer boss Michel Platini.
Borbely said on Wednesday his committee had been looking at "several hundred" cases of possible wrongdoing at FIFA, some involving senior officials, before he was replaced by the body's ruling council.
“There is only one interpretation of this kind of move: Infantino wants to get rid of the people going after the crooks and replace them with people who don’t really have a huge reputation in the field of criminal law. He wants things to stop,” said Pieth.
“Infantino and his friends are trying to emasculate the ethics process. I think he is afraid and it is his only way of staying in power at FIFA. He knows that it’s a bit of a rodeo ride there.”
Last year, several months after Infantino took over, Pieth accused him of “dropping the mask” of being a reformer. One year on, has his view changed?
“It is what I have been predicting,” said the Swiss law professor. “FIFA under Infantino is not a dictatorship but it is very autocratic. He is going for absolute power.”
This week’s departures of Eckert, Borbely and Miguel Maduro, who was also reportedly fired as chairman of the FIFA Governance Committee, are ‘very serious’, he went on.
“FIFA is ridiculing itself. It’s astonishing to take such steps as it’s obvious Infantino’s undermining the institution. One interpretation is that he feels so secure that he just thinks ‘to hell with it, I don’t care’. The other is that he was very scared of the two ethics officials,” said Pieth.
Victim of FIFA-bashing
Addressing FIFA’s 67th congress in the Bahraini capital on Thursday, Infantino hit out at critics saying the organisation had reformed and was now a victim of "fake news" and "FIFA bashing".
"We are rebuilding FIFA’s reputation after all that happened. We took over the organisation at it's deepest point," he declared.
Infantino said criticism was unfair, given improved transparency, controls and ethics procedures at FIFA.
"In the past many highly-paid experts, paid millions, have been hired by FIFA to help reform FIFA. Let me ask you, what did they do? They simply rubber stamped a sick and corrupt system. Where were all these self-proclaimed gurus and experts? They all miserably failed. I will, we will, not accept good governance lessons from any individuals who miserably failed to protect football," said Infantino.
According to a statement issued by FIFA, Colombian investigator Maria Claudia Rojas has been nominated as the new head of the investigatory chamber with Vassilos Skouris of Greece, a former president of the European Court of Justice, has been put forward as head of the adjudicatory chamber.
FIFA said candidates for a number of committees had been carefully chosen after a thorough consultation process. "They are recognised, high-profile experts in their respective fields. Moreover, they better reflect the geographic and gender diversity that must be a part of an international organisation like FIFA," a statement on Wednesday read.
Over the past few years, the FIFA leadership has been linked with corruption, bribery and vote rigging, prompting numerous arrests and criminal investigations in Switzerland and the United States.
In March, Zurich-based FIFA announced that it had completed a 22-month internal inquiry into allegations of high-level corruption and criminal misconduct and had handed its report to Swiss authorities.
“FIFA are bad news for Switzerland and for our reputation,” said Pieth. “Swiss legislators should say that if FIFA wants to stay here in Switzerland it has to shape up and meet certain requirements.”