President Donald Trump, center, with from left, Bahrain Foreign Minister Khalid bin Ahmed Al Khalifa, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, Trump, and United Arab Emirates Foreign Minister Abdullah bin Zayed al-Nahyan, during the Abraham Accords signing ceremony on the South Lawn of the White House, Tuesday, Sept. 15, 2020, in Washington. (AP Photo/Alex Brandon)

Investigated at home, FIFA head visits Trump, White House

Signing ceremony for a diplomatic deal to improve relations between Israel, Bahrain and the United Arab Emirates

GENEVA — Under investigation in his home country Switzerland, FIFA president Gianni Infantino made a third trip to the White House and met President Donald Trump since the United States became a 2026 World Cup co-host just over two years ago.

Infantino attended a signing ceremony this week for a diplomatic deal to improve relations between Israel, Bahrain and the United Arab Emirates, soccer’s world body said on Thursday.

It was Infantino’s first meeting with Trump since a special prosecutor in Switzerland opened a criminal proceeding against him in July.

The FIFA leader is a suspect in regard to meetings he had with the Swiss attorney general, who has since resigned in fallout from the case, during an ongoing investigation into alleged corruption in international soccer.

The Swiss proceeding relates to Infantino potentially inciting then-federal prosecutor Michael Lauber to commit abuse of public office and breach of official secrecy. Infantino has denied wrongdoing and called the allegations absurd.

Also while in Washington DC, Infantino spoke with the U.S. Attorney General, William Barr, FIFA said in a statement.

Their meeting on Wednesday appeared to seek the effect of normalizing the right of FIFA officials to meet prosecutors overseeing investigations of soccer.

“I have had similar meetings in Switzerland, and FIFA’s lawyers are also in regular contact with prosecutors and law enforcement agencies wherever and whenever needed,” Infantino said in the FIFA statement.

“In this way, I am fully convinced that the credibility and reputation of FIFA is being restored at the highest level.”

The Infantino-Barr meeting at the Department of Justice offices was “using the opportunity to personally thank the U.S. authorities, and especially the DoJ, for their work in the fight against corruption in football,” FIFA said.

More than 40 soccer and marketing officials have been indicted, made guilty pleas or have been convicted in a sprawling U.S. case unsealed in 2015 under the leadership of one of Barr’s predecessors, Loretta Lynch.

The fallout from the American and Swiss cases rocked FIFA and removed a swath of soccer leaders, including its then-president Sepp Blatter. It opened a path for Infantino to win election in February 2016.

Infantino’s visit to the U.S. came ahead of hosting FIFA’s online annual meeting of 211 member federations on Friday.

It was unclear if Infantino is quarantining after a visit to the U.S. as required by current Swiss regulations during the coronavirus pandemic.

Infantino previously first visited the White House in August 2018 — two months after the U.S., Canada and Mexico were picked by FIFA members as the 2026 World Cup host — and again in September last year.

He and Trump also had lunch together in Davos, Switzerland, in January this year.

By The Associated Press

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