GENEVA (AP) — Addressing soccer officials in 211 countries, FIFA President Gianni Infantino used their annual meeting on Friday to explain his own legal issues at home in Switzerland.
Criminal proceedings were opened against Infantino in July by a special prosecutor looking at meetings in 2016 and 2017 he had with Switzerland’s then-attorney general who led an investigation of alleged corruption in soccer under previous FIFA leadership.
“It was my duty as FIFA president,” Infantino told member federations watching remotely online. “I had to do my due diligence because I wanted to liberate FIFA from those old toxic values.”
Critics of Infantino have seized on similar explanations from him and now-former attorney general Michael Lauber that they took no notes and could not recall details of their talks.
Infantino has long insisted the meetings were to offer FIFA’s help in ongoing Swiss prosecutions including a two-week criminal trial that opened on Monday.
Former FIFA secretary Jerome Valcke faces charges including that he took bribes linked to World Cup broadcast deals. In a separate matter, involving a luxury villa in Sardinia, Qatari soccer and television executive Nasser al-Khelaifi is charged with inciting Valcke to commit criminal mismanagement.
“We will continue to fight against corruption in football, and we will continue to cooperate with all authorities all over the world,” Infantino said in Zurich on day five of the two-week trial in Bellinzona. A third defendant faced bribery charges with Valcke.
While Valcke was getting use of the villa in 2014 and 2015, FIFA signed a $480 million, no-tender deal for Qatar-based BeIN Media Group to renew its regional World Cup broadcast rights for the 2026 and 2030 tournaments.
FIFA’s withdrawal of a criminal complaint against Paris Saint-Germain president Al-Khelaifi — tied to a financial settlement reached in January — shut down an allegation of bribery against him.
Asked on Friday about taking the more serious option away from Swiss prosecutors, Infantino said: “This is a matter for the legal department of FIFA who made an agreement which is perfectly legal.”
“On this, the FIFA president obviously has no influence whatsoever,” he said at a news conference.
During the trial this week, Infantino met with U.S. Attorney General William Barr on a trip to Washington to attend a White House signing ceremony for a Middle East diplomatic accord.
One of Barr’s predecessors, Loretta Lynch, oversaw the sprawling investigation of international soccer that was unsealed in 2015 and led to the removal of a generation of soccer leaders in North and South America, and Switzerland-based FIFA and UEFA.
Infantino said he went “to express our gratitude to say thank you that the DoJ at the time saved FIFA from itself while others were just there standing on the sidelines watching.”
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