Swiss attorney faces possible impeachment over FIFA probe

Swiss Attorney General Michael Lauber is once again in the eye of the storm over his handling of a FIFA corruption probe. Keystone / Peter Klaunzer

Swiss Attorney General Michael Lauber could become the first high-ranking national official to be impeached over his handling of a FIFA corruption probe, after a key parliamentary committee meeting on Wednesday. Here’s the background. 

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A parliamentary judicial committee agreed unanimously on Wednesday to invite Lauber for questioning on May 20 to determine whether he broke rules or was grossly negligent. This followed motions filed by parliamentarians. 

Next week’s decisive hearing could represent the first step towards possible impeachment proceedings – a historic first - against the federal prosecutor. 

What are the accusations against Lauber?

Switzerland’s attorney general has been criticised and is facing calls to resign over accusations that his office botched up high-profile international football trials.

Last month, the first trial in Switzerland’s five-year investigation of corruption in football ended without a judgment. A five-year statute of limitations to secure convictions against former officials of the German Football Association and a former Swiss official of FIFA expired on April 28. 

The four suspects allegedly misled the authorities about a CHF10 million ($10.3 million) payment linked to the 2006 World Cup hosted by Germany. The four men denied any wrongdoing and Lauber defended the handling of the case, which was suspended by the Federal Criminal Court last month amid government instructions for people older than 65 to avoid contact following the coronavirus outbreak.

Wasn’t the attorney general also recently disciplined for his conduct in the FIFA case?

An independent oversight authority, AB-BA, said on March 4 that Lauber had repeatedly told falsehoods and breached a code of conduct while handling the investigation into alleged corruption around FIFA. He held undocumented meetings with FIFA Secretary General Gianni Infantino during the corruption investigation, misallocated resources and tried to block the AB-BA’s inquiry into the affair, AB-BA said.

As punishment it cut Lauber’s nearly CHF300,000 ($309,000) salary by 8% for one year.

Last year, Lauber was recused from his involvement in FIFA investigations by Switzerland’s federal criminal court.

What does Lauber say about all this?

The federal prosecutor has defended his handling of the case. The attorney general’s office told the Reuters news agency that it regretted that “no judicial assessment could be made” in the case of the four football officials.

Lauber has also appealed to the Federal Administrative Court against the watchdog’s findings and his salary cut. Lauber’s office said the AB-BA decision did not “represent a conclusive finding and must stand up to judicial review.” 

He issued no new comment ahead of Wednesday’s committee meeting. 

What’s the exact impeachment procedure and timing?

Lauber cannot be dismissed as easily as some parliamentarians may want. Removal from office is a formal act, which must follow certain rules. 

As such a procedure would be a first, the committee is keen to ensure that it is conducted “correctly, beyond reproach and safeguarding our institutions”, according to Andrea Caroni, chairman of the judicial committee. In order to clarify preliminary questions, Caroni invited an expert from the Federal Office of Justice and a law professor to Wednesday’s meeting. 

The committee will now decide whether to open formal proceedings after Lauber’s hearing on May 20. The rest of the timetable remains open. 

What may happen?

If the committee agrees to go ahead with impeachment proceedings, they must be validated by a vote by the two chambers of parliament – the House of Representatives and the Senate - in a joint session. Lauber critics would like to push ahead and for parliament to vote this summer. However, others would prefer to wait for the Federal Administrative Court appeal ruling on the watchdog’s findings. 

Last September, parliament re-elected Lauber for a third term despite months of controversy over his handling of the FIFA corruption investigation. The big question remains: can Lauber continue to fight or might he throw in the towel this time?

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