FIFA Ousts Top Lawyer, Last Senior Link to Blatter Era

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LONDON — FIFA parted ways with its top lawyer on Monday, removing the last senior official remaining from the Sepp Blatter era, when a corruption scandal devastated the organization’s top leadership and its reputation.

The departure of the Swiss lawyer, Marco Villiger, came as FIFA President Gianni Infantino tries to impose his authority on world soccer’s governing body, and it may not be the last. Infantino is mulling major changes in the upper ranks of his administration, according to several people with knowledge of the situation.

FIFA announced Villiger’s departure in a statement that said he had decided to leave the organization. “The time for me has come to turn the page to a new chapter, seeking for new challenges,” Villiger said in FIFA’s news release.

Villiger had been the head of FIFA’s legal department under Blatter, who was forced out in 2015 after a United States Department of Justice indictment revealed dozens of top soccer officials and businessmen had engaged in bribery and kickback schemes dating back more than two decades.

While many of his former colleagues were quickly and quietly removed, Villiger remained in place. He oversaw some of FIFA’s most important agreements with broadcasters and sponsors, including some subject to allegations in American court proceedings. Under Infantino, he even won a promotion.

Within three months of his election victory in February 2016, Infantino elevated Villiger to deputy secretary general, a position that ranks just below that of secretary general, FIFA’s top administrative role.

Villiger was responsible for managing FIFA’s reaction to the United States-led case, which has since spawned further investigations in Switzerland and France. He hired the law firm Quinn Emanuel Urquhart & Sullivan to conduct a costly internal investigation as FIFA faced the biggest crisis in its history. That internal probe led FIFA to claim so-called “victim status,” a legal position that allows the Zurich-based body to lay claim to some of the millions of dollars in restitution fees seized by investigators or forfeited by defendants.

Villiger was notified that he was being removed by FIFA’s secretary general, Fatma Samoura, an Infantino appointee whose own future has been the subject of news media speculation.

While Infantino has purged FIFA’s top ranks since taking over, the organization’s reputation remains under a cloud as fresh allegations of wrongdoing against current members of its executive board have continued to emerge. An investigation into Colombia’s soccer chief, who was accused of taking part in a World Cup-related ticket scheme, was announced earlier this month, around the same time a senior African soccer leader was issued a two-year ban from the sport.

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