SII Focus 12th December 2017

FIFA’s removal of investigator examining Mutko raises further integrity questions

Cornel Borbély was investigating whether FIFA should pursue charges against Vitaly Mutko for his alleged involvement in Russian State doping, prior to his removal as Chairman of FIFA’s Ethics Committee, reports The Guardian. Three senior figures on FIFA judicial bodies have been removed from their posts after raising questions regarding Mutko’s roles within football.

The WADA IP Report found that Mutko ordered the covering up of a Russian footballer’s positive test…

Mutko was directly implicated in the Independent Person Reports produced for the World Anti-Doping Agency (WADA) by Richard McLaren as covering up the positive test of a Russian footballer whilst he was Russia’s Minister of Sport. He was banned from any involvement in future editions of the Olympic Games by the International Olympic Committee (IOC) last week, which accepted evidence that he was involved in State doping of athletes. “The IOC Executive Board today has made its position with regard to the responsibility of Mr. Mutko very clear”, said IOC President Thomas Bach at a press conference.

FIFA has yet to take any action against Mutko regarding McLaren’s evidence of his involvement in State doping. In November, FIFA confirmed it is still investigating allegations of doping within Russian football. It could not confirm if it is still investigating allegations that a separate sample-swapping system was in operation within Russian football.

Mutko was promoted to Deputy Prime Minister in October last year, after McLaren published the first Independent Person (IP) Report outlining allegations of State doping in Russia and before the publication of his second Report in December. He remains Chairman of the Local Organising Committee for the 2018 FIFA World Cup and President of the Football Union of Russia (FUR).

Alexy Sorokin replaced Mutko on the FIFA Council after the FIFA Governance Committee determined that Mutko was not ‘politically neutral’, as required by Article 14 of the FIFA Code of Ethics. Sorokin is CEO of the Russia 2018 Local Organising Committee, and his boss is Mutko.

Miguel Maduro was dismissed as Chair of FIFA’s Governance Committee – which made the above decision – at the FIFA Congress in May, along with Borbély. He told the Digital, Culture, Media and Sport (DCMS) Committee of the UK Parliament that FIFA President Gianni Infantino “was not comfortable with the decision” to remove Mutko from the FIFA Council.

He also said that a later Brussels meeting with FIFA General Secretary Fatma Samoura and Domenico Scala, then Chairman of FIFA’s Audit and Compliance Committee, was requested by Infantino. Samoura “said that we needed to find a solution to declare Mr. Mutko eligible, otherwise the Presidency itself would be in question and the World Cup would be a disaster”, said Maduro. Scala later resigned, arguing that changes introduced at FIFA’s May Congress eroded the independence of FIFA’s ethics bodies.

This argument appears to be supported by a recent Report compiled by the former President of the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe, Anne Brasseur. ‘I have especially strong reservations concerning the loss of independence for the so-called “independent” bodies’, writes Brasseur in the ‘Good Football Governance Report (PDF below). ‘I note that in less than one year the four chairpersons of the FIFA key supervisory bodies were changed. I find this regrettable and I believe this is a bad signal. The way all this happened cannot be reasonably considered as a normal turnover of key positions and, regretfully, the general feeling is that FIFA Council and Mr Infantino in particular wished to get rid of persons who might have embarrassed them.’

The Report also argues that the replacement of Borbély with Maria Claudia Rojas was a ‘great surprise’, as the Colombian Judge does not have any experience in criminal or financial investigations. ‘She does not really meet the profile of a “prosecutor”, as was clearly the case of her two predecessors, Mr Garcia and Mr Borbély’, it reads. ‘Also, her lack of knowledge of English and French is a major obstacle, as almost all documents are in one of these two languages. This is not merely a factor that risks slowing her down in her examination of case files, even if she demonstrates the necessary willingness to carry out her duties, but it also means – and this is much more problematic – that she is more dependent on the secretariat that assists her and that it is objectively difficult for her to enter into confidential contacts with witnesses or experts.’

Maduro also said that Infantino told him there was “no evidence” that Mutko was involved Russian State doping, and that “the IOC was also not going to intervene on that”. Maduro pointed out that the Governance Committee never got to examine the alleged role of Mutko in Russian State doping. “Our committee ended up never deciding this question”, he said. “This question was not addressed because Mr Mutko was excluded on the basis of the principle of non-governmental interference”.

Analysis

Hans-Joachim Eckert and Borbély warned that their removal would set back the work of FIFA’s Ethics Committee and would delay current investigations. Perhaps that was the point.

Maduro’s evidence to the DCMS Committee shows that Infantino and Samoura were concerned that any action taken by FIFA against Mutko could damage the 2018 World Cup. It also shows that Infantino was willing to defend Mutko against allegations that he was involved with State doping, despite evidence suggesting that he was involved.

It also appears that this concern extended to pressure put on Ethics Committee members not to remove Mutko from the FIFA Council. The reluctance to remove Mutko from FIFA roles despite his position as Russia’s Deputy Prime Minister is illustrated by his continued role as a member of FIFA’s Security and Integrity Committee.

Mutko was Russia’s Minister of Sport from 2008 until 2016, and was appointed as a FIFA Council member in 2009. FIFA’s rules on political neutrality were not included in previous versions of its Statutes, but were part of the 2012 version of its Code of Ethics. This raises questions as to why Mutko was re-elected to the Executive Committee (as the FIFA Council was then called) at the UEFA Congress in London on 24 May 2013, and why that re-election was accepted at the 2013 FIFA Congress, despite Mutko’s high-profile government post.

It would appear that anyone investigating Mutko’s roles within FIFA has been removed from their post. This means that any investigations into Mutko must now be reviewed by predecessors, who will then have to decide whether such investigations should proceed. This is likely to delay disciplinary action, should it be decided that any is necessary.

In December 2015, it was revealed that the International Association of Athletics Federations (IAAF) developed a plan to delay the announcement of Russian doping positives until after the Moscow 2013 World Championships. The 2018 FIFA World Cup is now almost exactly six months away. Could FIFA’s replacement of its investigatory staff in May be a similar ploy designed to delay any disciplinary action against Mutko until after Russia hosts the World Cup?

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