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‘Lex Fifa’ Swiss decline to tighten corruption laws excessively

Sports associations like FIFA should also be covered by the Swiss corruption law changes that make it an automatic criminal offence for anyone to give or accept bribes

(Keystone)

Swiss senators have refused to push for overly strict private corruption laws that would affect Swiss-based sports federations like FIFA as well as businesses. This comes despite the recent corruption scandal rocking the world of football. 

On Wednesday a narrow majority of senators (23 in favour, 22 against) voted for a proposal to beef up the nation’s corruption laws to make it an automatic criminal offence for anyone to give or accept bribes. However, cases which do not threaten public interest will only be opened if there is a complaint from a company, individual or group.

Critics say the cabinet’s original proposal, nicknamed “Lex Fifa”, has been watered down. 

“There is no reason to make exceptions to the automatic prosecution of private corruption,” railed Justice Minister Simonetta Sommaruga. “This restriction will pose application problems as how do you decide what is meant by ‘public interest’?” 

The corruption law debate in parliament comes after a week of turmoil for the Zurich-based world football body, FIFA. Wednesday’s vote is a coincidence and not linked directly. 

In the past, Swiss lawmakers have been hesitant to tighten oversight on organisations like FIFA, which is a sizeable local employer and exerts a powerful lobby. The recent corruption allegations at FIFA were very present during the parliamentary vote, however. 

Christian Levrat, president of the centre-left Social Democratic Party, said FIFA’s corruption problems were “the consequence of insufficient national rules”. 

According to the proposal still to be finalised, private corruption could be punished by a maximum three-year jail sentence. Sanctions will apply to firms, private associations and sports federations. Senators rejected a higher prison sentence of five years. 

The issue still has to go back to the House of Representatives before being finalised. 

Proposed changes to Swiss law are in line with recommendations made in 2011 by the Council of Europe’s Group of States against Corruption (GRECO) to better fight private-sector graft and bribery of foreign officials. 

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FIFA turmoil 

They come after a colossal corruption scandal at FIFA. On Tuesday, FIFA President Sepp Blatter announced his resignation. This came six days after Swiss police raided a five-star hotel in the Zurich at the behest of US authorities and arrested several FIFA officials, and four days after Blatter was re-elected to a fifth term as FIFA president. 

US justice officials announced an investigation into alleged widespread financial wrongdoing stretching back more than two decades. Swiss authorities also launched their own criminal probe into the awarding of the 2018 and 2022 World Cups to Russia and Qatar, respectively.  

The US investigation appears to have closed in on Blatter, who is being investigated by US prosecutors and the FBI, sources told Reuters, The New York Times and ABC News. 

Blatter has not been charged with any wrongdoing. 

swissinfo.ch with agencies

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