- Associated Press - Wednesday, October 26, 2016

GENEVA (AP) - After an internal investigation, UEFA has found that former general secretary Gianni Infantino and current president Aleksander Ceferin did not break any rules when the governing body of European soccer sent a multimillion dollar loan to the Slovenian federation.

The 4 million euro ($4.4 million) deal for a betting company investment in June 2015 - which an internal UEFA report says was “granted in real exception” - has been scrutinized because it was signed off by Infantino and Ceferin. They have since won unexpected elections as presidents of FIFA and UEFA, respectively.

A Norwegian magazine reported that FIFA ethics prosecutors are investigating Infantino’s part in the loan. It said UEFA flouted financial protocol to approve the money, and noted that FIFA’s code of ethics prohibits individuals from investing in soccer gambling operators.

The UEFA disciplinary committee asked its investigations unit to report on claims initially made by Scandinavian media last month.

The inquiry document, seen by The Associated Press, concluded that UEFA and the Slovenian federation “respected the relevant provisions and conditions” of granting loans to members.

“The loan was granted entirely in accordance with standard UEFA procedures and that the use of the loan funds by the Slovenian (federation) raised no questions either,” UEFA said Wednesday in a statement to the AP.

The document noted that FIFA’s ethical rules on betting and integrity of matches relate to “persons,” not institutions. The code, therefore, does “neither apply to UEFA, nor to national associations,” the document concludes.

Despite UEFA’s internal report, FIFA ethics prosecutors can independently seek evidence and demand witness statements. However, it is unclear if an early stage probe has begun.

The investigatory chamber of the FIFA ethics committee said it would never confirm an ongoing preliminary inquiry. But that can lead to a formal case being opened, which would typically be announced.

The multimillion dollar loan from UEFA was detailed last month after FIFA built closer links to Slovenia.

In July, FIFA appointed Slovenia state auditor Tomaz Vesel to chair its independent audit and compliance committee and a panel which sets salaries. Norwegian magazine Josimar reported that Vesel plays on an amateur soccer team with Ceferin, who it claimed was supported by Infantino’s staff in what became a landslide win for the UEFA presidency in September.

Interviewed by the AP last week, Ceferin described reports seeking to implicate him as “mosquito bites” helped by an old guard of soccer insiders opposing him.

“They had to try to invent some non-stories,” Ceferin said at UEFA headquarters in Nyon, Switzerland, insisting the loan was “as clean as possible. We asked for a loan, it was a strategic investment.”

The report says Infantino was not directly involved in Slovenia’s formal request in December 2014, which had “one sole known and well-documented aim” - to buy a 17.3 percent share of the state lottery Sportna loterija. The owners include the Slovenian Olympic committee and national ski federation.

UEFA said its loan policy is “to co-finance strategic projects with a lasting impact and can never be granted to support bad management or wrong decisions.”

Slovenia got “exceptional” treatment at two stages of the process, the report acknowledged, though notes that UEFA previously granted 25 loans to member federations.

One exception was in granting a “force majeure loan” in May 2015 that had to be approved by five senior UEFA officials, including then-president Michel Platini and Infantino. A “detailed cash-flow” plan also had to be given, and the Slovenian federation suggested the investment would earn extra revenue after eight years.

UEFA said it also allows “in very exceptional cases” for its finance committee to grant loans guaranteed against a member’s future payments from UEFA-controlled broadcasting and sponsorship sales of World Cup and European Championship qualifying matches.

UEFA wrote to Ceferin on April 28, 2015, that Platini must approve how Slovenia could repay the loan. It would be offset against 800,000 euro ($870,000) payments Slovenia was due to get each August from 2016 through 2020.

Noting that other UEFA members had commercial ties to betting operators, the report said the Spanish soccer federation got 1 percent of national lottery profits which was worth 70 million euros ($76 million) since 1998.

“Furthermore, and as everybody knows, it is not at all uncommon for national football associations, or for football clubs, to have commercial relationships with companies in the lottery or gaming business,” UEFA said in its statement Wednesday.

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