Infantino speaks of forces wanting to drag FIFA into the darkness

FILE PHOTO: FIFA President Gianni Infantino waits for the start of a signing ceremony at the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC) headquarters in Vienna, Austria September 14, 2020. REUTERS/Leonhard Foeger/File Photo

BERN (Reuters) - FIFA president Gianni Infantino, the subject of criminal proceedings in Switzerland, spoke of forces which he said wanted to drag the global soccer body into the "darkness of the past" as he defended himself at the annual Congress on Friday.

The Congress, usually a lavish event in which the representatives of FIFA's 211 member associations enjoy first-class travel and luxury hotels, was held by video conference from FIFA headquarters in Zurich due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

It lasted around 90 minutes.

The proceedings against Infantino were launched by a special prosecutor looking into meetings that he had with former Swiss Attorney General Michael Lauber.

The AB-BA watchdog, which oversees the Attorney General's office, said that special prosecutor Stefan Keller had found indications of criminal conduct related to their meetings. Infantino and Lauber have denied wrongdoing.

Infantino, elected in 2016 to clean up FIFA after it became embroiled in a scandal, has argued it is perfectly natural for him to meet law enforcement agencies.

"Why was I meeting the Attorney-General? Because it was my duty, my duty as FIFA president, because I want to liberate FIFA from those old toxic values," he said.

"There are still forces who want to drag us back into the darkness of the past... because they don't like reforms and because they want to hide their malpractices, who knows?"

Infantino said he would continue to fight against corruption in football and to co-operate with authorities over the world to help clean up the sport.

"I am more convinced than ever to fight for these values. Those who have made up conspiracy theories will become victims to their own schemes," he said.

(Writing by Brian Homewood, editing by Pritha Sarkar)

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