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FIFA corruption fight ‘setback’ by ethics team purge

Former Chairmen of the chambers of the independent FIFA Ethics Committee, Hans-Joachim Eckert (L) and Cornel Borbely (R) give a press conference after FIFA’s decision to remove its ethics team on May 10, 2017 © AFP / JACK GUEZ

MANAMA, Bahrain, May 10 – FIFA’s decision to remove its ethics team was a “setback” in the fight against corruption as “hundreds” of cases were being investigated, ousted investigator Cornel Borbely said 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 Bahrain.

The decision not only threatens to overshadow the Congress, but also plunge FIFA into another high-profile corruption episode.

Borbely and Eckert told a press conference in Manama that the decision was bad for football’s scandal-tainted governing body and the sport itself.

“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.

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

He added: “We investigated several hundred cases and several hundred are still pending and ongoing at the moment.”

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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.

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

– Personal motive –

Sepp Blatter, pictured in April 2017, was the long-time head of scandal-plagued FIFA until he was forced out in 2015 and banned from football © AFP/File / Michael Buholzer

It is a controversial decision 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.

“The loser is soccer, because trying to get a good, honest FIFA now it’s very difficult.”

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

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

They were set to fly out again on Wednesday.

FIFA gave its first statement regarding the furore, almost 24 hours after Tuesday’s decision, but did not mention Eckert and Borbely by name.

Instead, the statement said that all new appointees to various FIFA committees were unanimously chosen and represented greater diversity.

“The decision on the final list of candidates was… agreed to unanimously by the FIFA Council,” read the statement.

“These individuals have been chosen because they are recognised high-profile experts in their respective fields.

“Moreover, they better reflect the geographic and gender that must be a part of an international organisation like FIFA.”

The council also recommended Fiti Sunia of American Samoa serve as deputy to Skouris, while Canada’s Bruno de Vita and Martin Ngoga of Rwanda will work alongside Rojas.

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