Corruption at FIFA: 25 criminal cases and a prosecutor in hot water

Lauber has been Swiss attorney general since 2012. Keystone/Peter Klaunzer

As the Federal Prosecutor’s Office continues to investigate numerous corruption cases linked to the Federation of International Football Associations (FIFA), dismissal proceedings have been launched against the Swiss attorney general, Michael Lauber, because of secret meetings he has held with the FIFA president.

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The story begins

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The Swiss component of the investigations into corruption at FIFA began with coordinated, global action. At the request of United States authorities, Swiss police entered the hotel Baur au Lac in Zurich on May 27, 2015 and arrested seven FIFA officials suspected of having accepted bribes and commissions.

The Swiss federal prosecutor’s office also opened its own criminal investigations into unfair management and money laundering in relation to suspicions of irregularity around the selection of Russia and Qatar to host the 2018 and 2022 football world cup competitions. 

The investigations open

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In the wake of the stunning first round of arrests in Zurich, the federal prosecutor’s office launched a series of investigations. Amongst the most notable:

The 17-member judicial committee of the Swiss parliament is to consider allegations that Lauber told falsehoods and breached a code of conduct while handling the investigation into alleged corruption around FIFA.

As part of the impeachment proceedings it is holding a series of hearings over the next few months.

The final decision on Lauber's fate as Switzerland's top prosecutor lies with both chambers of parliament. 

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  • September 25, 2015: criminal proceedings are opened against FIFA President Sepp Blatter who is suspected of unfair management and breach of trust for having signed a TV broadcasting rights contract that disadvantaged the federation and for having made an unfair payment of CHF2 million ($2 million) to Michel Platini, who was then president of the Union of European Football Associations (UEFA). 

  • November 6, 2015: criminal proceedings are opened against four members of the organising committee of 2006 World Cup in Germany. Horst Rudolf Schmidt, Theo Zwanziger, Wolfgang Niersbach and former player Franz Beckenbauer are suspected of fraud, unfair management, money laundering and breach of trust. The investigation relates to €7 million (CHF7.5 million) that was allegedly tapped to pay debts incurred by Beckenbauer. The money was used to finance various payments to the benefit of a Qatari business.

  • March 20, 2017: criminal proceedings are opened against former FIFA secretary general Jérôme Valcke, director of BeIN Media Group and current chairman of Paris Saint-Germain football club Nasser Al-Khelaïfi, and another businessman active in sporting rights. Valcke is suspected of having accepted kickbacks to influence the process of attribution of media rights to several football world cups. 

According to the federal prosecutor’s office, 25 criminal procedures of varying size and importance have been opened since 2015 that relate to football.

Closed cases

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Until now, the only case that has been heard by Switzerland’s federal criminal court is that which relates to the 2006 World Cup in Germany. The process began on March 9 but was adjourned because of the coronavirus crisis, following which it was simply cancelled because the statute of limitations expired on April 27. The proceedings, therefore, had to be abandoned by Swiss justice.

Among the other cases that have reached a conclusion, the prosecutor’s office notes the conviction by criminal order of two people for falsifying documents in the context of an investigation in collaboration with the US into former South American football authorities.

Four other cases were closed without further action.

Ongoing cases

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There remain around 20 criminal cases which are still pending. The most advanced amongst them is the case against Valcke, al-Khelaïfi and a third man. The prosecutor’s office has lodged an indictment for corruption, unfair management, and title fraud. The case is scheduled to begin in the federal criminal court on September 14.

One part of the investigation against former FIFA President Blatter related to alleged mismanagement of TV broadcasting rights was reportedly closed by the prosecutor’s office. Investigations into the CHF2 million paid to Platini are continuing.

Justified delays?

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The prosecutor’s office offers several reasons to justify the lack of results five years after the stunning opening of investigations into FIFA. Numerous events were already quite dated when investigations began, and the proceedings are complex because they require international cooperation which is not always assured.

A request for legal assistance from Qatari authorities, for example, was never answered.

“I understand that this could take time, because the sporting world is the quintessence of globalisation,” comments Patrick Oberli, deputy editor in chief of the sports department of Tamedia group of newspapers. He notes that FIFA counts some 200 affiliated associations subject to 200 different jurisdictions.

Nevertheless, the investigations undertaken in the US have led to numerous convictions, while most of the Swiss cases remain ongoing. To that is added the scandal around Attorney General Lauber, which has caused serious damage to the Swiss reputation.

“What is questionable, are the links we now know about between the head of the prosecutor’s office and the head of FIFA,” says Oberli. “It is legitimate to ask whether Switzerland has done everything in its power to complete these investigations. 

Other major international cases involving the Swiss Prosecutor's Office

  • Petrobras-Odebrecht: the Brazilian construction company, Odebrecht, is accused by the Brazilian justice authorities of paying bribes to politicians and senior representatives of the Brazilian oil giant Petrobras to win public contracts in several Latin American countries. Several Swiss bank accounts and intermediaries were used to transfer and launder the money.
  • 1MDB: a number of politicians and businessmen are accursed of embezzling more than $4.5 billion (CHF4.5 billion) from Malaysia state fund 1MDB. Swiss banks failed to prevent the transfer of the money.
  • Gunvor: the Geneva-based commodities trader Gunvor is accused of allowing its employees and agents from bribing public officials between 2008 and 2011 in order to gain access to the petroleum markets in the Republic of Congo and Ivory Coast.
  • Uzbekistan: relatives of the eldest daughter of the former Uzbek president, Islam Karimov, are accused of having used several Swiss bank accounts to launder money and hide the true origins of the funds.
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