FIFA President Gianni Infantino, left, and Russia's Deputy Prime Minister Vitaly Mutko walk after presenting the FIFA World Cup trophy at Moscow's Luzhniki Stadium, Russia, Sept 9, 2017. (IVAN SEKRETAREV / AP)
LONDON — Gianni Infantino's leadership of FIFA faced renewed criticism Wednesday when two former officials turned on the president with complaints about his conduct.
New York University law professor Joseph Weiler disclosed he has submitted an ethics complaint to FIFA about alleged undue interference by Infantino on the work of the governance panel he served until May.
Weiler quit his FIFA role after the abrupt removal of committee chairman Miguel Maduro, who testified Wednesday to British legislators about the strong pressure applied by Infantino in an apparent attempt to influence decisions.
Maduro said he was told that banning Russian Deputy Prime Minister Vitaly Mutko from soccer's ruling council would be a "disaster" for the 2018 World Cup and Infantino's presidency could be jeopardized.
But Maduro still went through with the biggest call of his tenure — blocking Mutko, who is also head of the 2018 World Cup organizing committee, from seeking re-election to the FIFA Council on grounds of political interference.
"With the exception of that case in general, the president did not try to influence our decisions," Maduro told the sports committee at the House of Commons. "He would transit to me sometimes those decisions were not well accepted but in that case there was an attempt to influence that decision."
It came in March just as Russia was preparing to host a World Cup warm-up tournament, where Infantino met with Mutko and Russian President Vladimir Putin.
"(Infantino) expressed concerns about the impact of the decision (to ban Mutko) on the World Cup," Maduro said. "He was very clear about that."
FIFA secretary general Fatma Samoura went further to Maduro.
"The secretary general made it clear to me that it was extremely problematic," Maduro said. "More than that, she said we needed to find a solution to declare Mr. Mutko eligible because otherwise the presidency itself would be in question, the World Cup would be a disaster, that was her view, and the continued presidency of Mr. Infantino would also be in question."
Mutko's continued position of power within FIFA was also under scrutiny after he was directly implicated in the state-sponsored doping scandal in Russia.
Maduro said Infantino believes there is "no evidence" Mutko is involved in the Russian doping scandal.
FIFA took six hours to challenge Maduro's allegations, without saying specifically what was inaccurate.
"For Miguel Maduro to be in regular contact with the FIFA administration, sometimes under his own initiative and in order to seek advice, was normal in the course of his work," FIFA said in a statement. "Exchange between the administration and FIFA's committees, which in the end all defend FIFA's interests, are logical and even desirable, so for these exchanges to be portrayed as undue influence is factually incorrect."
Weiler confirmed to The Associated Press by email that he had submitted the ethics complaint to FIFA about Infantino, who pledged to clean up the governing body after succeeding the disgraced Sepp Blatter in February 2015.
FIFA said the ethics committee "will not comment on ongoing proceedings nor comment on whether or not investigations are underway into alleged ethics cases." That is despite FIFA announcing in June, in response to a spate of reports about Infantino, that "there are no open preliminary or investigation proceedings involving the FIFA president."
The hearing at the British parliament began with committee chairman Damian Collins disclosing correspondence from FIFA blocking ousted investigator Cornel Borbely from taking questions from legislators. Samoura wrote to Collins warning that Borbely is prevented from appearing at the digital, culture, media and sport committee because he is still bound by the FIFA ethics code and Swiss civil and criminal law.