(Reuters) - FIFA chief Gianni Infantino broke the world soccer body’s rules by interfering in the rewriting of its ethics code, German magazine Der Spiegel and European Investigative Collaborations, a network of international media, reported on Friday.
FIFA’s Ethics Committee, which banned and suspended dozens of officials including former FIFA president Sepp Blatter following a 2015 corruption scandal, is supposed to operate independently from soccer’s global governing body.
But Spiegel said leaked emails showed Swiss-Italian Infantino, who replaced Blatter, was behind changes to the ethics code which included a limitation period of 10 years on historical investigations into corruption and bribery.
A FIFA spokesperson on Friday said there was nothing untoward in Infantino’s correspondence with the soccer body’s chief ethics judge over the redrafting of the code.
The Spiegel report cites a December 2017 email to Infantino from Vassilios Skouris, who took over as FIFA’s chief ethics judge following Infantino’s election as president.
In the email Skouris sent draft changes to FIFA’s ethics rules to the FIFA chief which he had been working on with chief ethics investigator Colombian Maria Claudia Rojas, Spiegel said.
Spiegel said Infantino responded with a series of amendments after describing the new code as “really excellent”.
Among the complaints Infantino made in his reply, according to Spiegel, was that too many preliminary investigations had been launched against soccer officials.
“This provision has also been ‘misused’ in the past, especially mediatically (sic),” Infantino wrote, referring to media coverage of preliminary ethics investigations.
“It should be clear that even a preliminary investigation can only be carried out on the instructions of the chairman of the investigative chamber.”
When the revised ethics code was presented for approval by the FIFA Congress in Moscow in June it included the changes Infantino suggested — the power of the Ethics Committee secretariat to begin preliminary investigations was removed and the need for the chairman of the investigative chamber to authorize a probe had been added.
The FIFA spokesperson on Friday said Infantino’s exchange with Skouris was “entirely natural”.
“When he was still the UEFA General Secretary, Mr Infantino was a member of the Reforms Committee responsible for drafting the revised FIFA Statutes adopted in February 2016.
“In his capacity as an experienced lawyer, it would have been entirely natural for him to have exchanges of this nature with Mr Skouris,” the spokesperson said.
The spokesperson said it was implausible to suggest that Skouris, who led the European Court of Justice for 12 years, could be pressured into making changes to the FIFA Code of Ethics against his will and said the revised code was a considerable improvement on the previous version.
Infantino was himself the subject of a preliminary investigation by FIFA’s Ethics Committee regarding his acceptance of offers of private flights to visit Pope Francis at the Vatican, Vladimir Putin in Moscow and the Emir of Qatar.
However, the Ethics Committee ruled in August 2016 that Infantino had not broken any FIFA rules and regulations.
Reporting by Simon Evans; editing by Ken Ferris