FIFA corruption fight ‘setback’ by purge of ethics team

Sunil Gulati (C) President of the United States Football Federation and Angel Maria Villar (R) President of the Spanish Football Federation (R) chat as they leave a meeting of the FIFA council in Manama on May 9, 2017.<br />A five-hour long meeting of the all-powerful FIFA Council in Bahrain, chaired by president Gianni Infantino, has decided to replace German Hans-Joachim Eckert with Vasilios Skuris of Greece. / AFP PHOTO / JACK GUEZ

FIFA’s decision to remove its ethics team was a “setback in the fight against corruption”, one of those dismissed, investigator Cornel Borbely, told a press conference in Bahrain on Wednesday.

World football’s governing body has recommended that Borbely, along with the ethics judge who helped bring down Sepp Blatter, Hans-Joachim Eckert, not be re-elected at the FIFA Congress which takes place on May 11 in the Gulf.

Borbely also said there were “several hundred cases” of corruption pending.

“The removal means nothing else but the end of the reform process,” said Borbely.

“The ethics commission is the key institution of the FIFA reforms.

“We could bring back some trust in FIFA, the ethics committee… was the role model for the whole sports world.

“As it seems now, the work of the ethics committee was inconvenient for functionaries, for FIFA officials.

“The removal of the ethics committee is not in FIFA’s best interests… and it’s a setback for the fight against corruption,” said Borbely.

The dramatic recommendation was taken by the all-powerful FIFA Council on Tuesday.

The decision not to re-elect Eckert and Borbely comes as they have both served their four-year terms.

The Council recommended replacing Eckert with Vassilios Skouris of Greece, a former president of the European Court of Justice.

Similarly, ethics investigator Borbely is to be replaced by Colombia’s Maria Claudia Rojas.

Skouris served as president on the ECJ from 2003 until 2015.

The decision is set to be ratified by FIFA at its annual Congress, which convenes in Bahrain on Thursday.

– Personal motive –
The decision is controversial as critics have accused FIFA president Gianni Infantino of having a personal motive to replace Eckert and Borbely, as an ethics investigation was launched against him last year.

Eckert was the judge who opened proceedings against Blatter and Michel Platini in November 2015.

“It’s not a great day for FIFA,” Eckert told the same hastily-arranged press conference, held in a downtown hotel in Manama.

The investigators said they have still not been officially told about their removal and only found out via their “mobile phones” when they landed in Bahrain on Tuesday evening.

One official joked that not being informed was “classy”.

“I would like to have an explanation,” said Eckert.

Following Tuesday’s decision, FIFA members were tight-lipped but one Council official said: “Congress members felt that FIFA and the Ethics Commission needed freshening up.”

However, FIFA’s decision threatens to overshadow its Congress and critics will argus that it calls into question the reform agenda set by the president, who was elected last year after football’s governing body was engulfed by corruption scandals.


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