By Brian Homewood
ZURICH (Reuters) – FIFA President Gianni Infantino, elected in February to lead the global soccer body into calmer waters after a series of corruption scandals, was himself cleared of possible ethics violations on Friday.
FIFA’s independent ethics committee said it had concluded a formal investigation into Infantino’s conduct which focused on some of the flights he had taken during the opening months of his presidency and his failure to sign an employment contract.
“It was found that no violation of the FIFA Code of Ethics (FCE) had been committed by Mr Infantino,” the ethics committee said in a statement.
It said investigations were carried out “diligently over several weeks” and included “a large number of interviews with witnesses and Mr Infantino himself.”
Infantino, in a statement issued by FIFA, said he was “pleased” with the outcome.
German media have been reporting for several weeks that Infantino, whose predecessor Sepp Blatter has been banned for six years for ethics violations, was under investigation over flights he had taken on private jets.
FIFA has been in turmoil after a wave of indictments of football officials in the United States last year, including former members of its executive committee, on corruption-related charges.
The football body has also been forced to investigate controversies surrounding the awarding of its showpiece, the World Cup finals, especially the decision to grant the 2018 tournament to Russia and the 2022 finals to Qatar.
Blatter was banned by FIFA’s own ethics committee along with former European soccer boss Michel Platini, who is serving a four-year suspension.
The ethics committee said that preliminary investigations had focused on several flights taken by Infantino, the hiring process for positions in the president’s office and his refusal to sign the contract specifying his employment relationship with FIFA.
Infantino’s conduct might have breached articles on code of conduct, loyalty, conflicts of interest and offering and accepting gifts, it said.
However, after formal proceedings were opened, it was concluded that the flights “did not represent ethics violations” and that benefits enjoyed by Infantino were not “improper” in the light of applicable FIFA rules and regulations.
It said the hiring process and Infantino’s employment contract were internal compliance issues rather than ethical matters.
FIFA’s statement said Infantino and his administration would “continue to focus on developing football as well as their efforts to improve the organisation.”
“This critical work will continue,” it said.
(Writing by Brian Homewood; Editing by Richard Balmforth)