New FIFA Investigator Didn't Get Fullest Background Check

(Bloomberg) -- Officials carrying out background checks on FIFA’s new chief investigator had such little time to complete their work that they wrote to the soccer body’s top administrative officer to say the decision could be reversed should new facts emerge about Colombia’s Maria Claudia Rojas, according to two people familiar with the situation.

The naming of Rojas and Vassilios Skouris, the Greek former president of the EU Court of Justice, as FIFA’s ethics judge overshadowed the organization’s annual meeting last week in Manama, Bahrain. The appointments came so quickly that the usual probes into Rojas couldn’t completed in time, according to the people, who asked not to be identified because the information wasn’t public.

Their predecessors, Cornel Borbely and Hans-Joachim Eckert, said they only found out they wouldn’t be retained when their plane touched down in Bahrain, and said their removal jeopardized hundreds of pending cases.

Rojas told media in Latin America she was surprised to learn that she’d been chosen to lead the investigative branch of the ethics committee, and had first been contacted by FIFA President Gianni Infantino in April, before meeting him in person later that month in Chile. Infantino, who was elevated to FIFA’s presidency after the 2015 soccer scandal removed top leaders, denied he replaced Eckert and Borbely because they’d been investigating his conduct in office.

The checks into the ethics leaders were being carried out by FIFA’s governance and review committee led by Miguel Maduro, a former advocate general of the ECJ. Infantino’s governing council replaced Maduro two days before this month’s meeting, after just eight months. The Portuguese lawyer said in an interview last week that he resisted internal pressure to make decisions that went against FIFA’s internal regulations.

New Circumstances

"A standard clause for all eligibility checks of any candidate is that should new relevant circumstances or facts occur or should the review committee become aware of relevant circumstances or facts that were not brought to their attention at the time the eligibility check was conducted, these will immediately be forwarded to the attention of the secretary general," FIFA said in an e-mailed statement.

FIFA’s background checks are carried out by Mintz Group, and can take several months. Under FIFA’s own rules, candidates for judicial and other committees, should be identified at least four months before they assume their positions.

FIFA replaced its ethics investigators just weeks after its secretary general Fatma Samoura said she supported them “100 percent.” Some of FIFA’s governing executive, including Germany’s Reinhard Grindel, complained that Infantino hadn’t informed them of his plans to replace the heads of FIFA’s judicial bodies.

Infantino and FIFA are fighting to retain credibility amid the ongoing damage caused by the 2015 corruption busts. Maduro said FIFA might be incapable of reforming by itself, and was exploring ways in which outside bodies, aside from law enforcement agencies, could force through changes.