By Andrew Warshaw
May 13 – The noose appears to be tightening around the neck of Swiss Attorney General Michael Lauber (pictured) who today was facing the start of proceedings that could lead to his impeachment following weeks of criticism of his handling of an official investigation into alleged FIFA-related corruption.
Swiss parliamentarians and anti-corruption campaigners have called for Lauber’s head for totally mis-managing the much-publicised fraud trial over payments linked to the 2006 World Cup in Germany.
The five-year statute of limitations in the investigation recently expired with no verdicts and Lauber’s position is regarded as no longer tenable, additionally and importantly because of his unrelated but equally controversial undocumented meetings with FIFA boss Gianni Infantino.
In March Lauber, who has denied any wrongdoing, was sanctioned for disloyalty, lying and breaching his office’s code of conduct. He also had his pay cut for a year after a watchdog group found he repeatedly told falsehoods and broke a prosecutors’ code of conduct.
A committee of 17 lawmakers will now consider whether there are reasonable grounds to suspect Lauber broke rules or was grossly negligent.
If impeached, Lauber would be the first national official to suffer such ignominy since the federal state of Switzerland was established in 1848. He has vehemently defended his actions, saying FIFA itself was not a target of any inquiry, and has appealed to the Swiss administrative court against the findings of the watchdog.
“If we decide to carry out this procedure, we have to do it correctly, beyond reproach, to safeguard our institutions,” Andrea Caroni, chairman of the parliamentary judicial committee, told Reuters.
“The attorney general and his office have a huge responsibility for the Swiss criminal justice system and our international standing … This office – and its independence – are very important for the national and international reputation of Switzerland as a country of rule of law.”
Ursula Schneider Schuettel, a member of the Swiss Parliament’s Judicial Committee, said proceedings were likely go to a vote before Lauber could be dismissed.
“I will support any motion for possible impeachment proceedings, but eventually it would be better for everyone if Mr Lauber resigned,” she was quoted as saying.
Lauber was narrowly re-elected in September for a third four-year term but allegedly violated several duties of office by secretly meeting with Infantino who, according to unconfirmed reports, wanted to discuss a contract he signed when he worked as UEFA’s legal affairs director and which was allegedly being investigated. The case was later closed, leading to considerable speculation of collusion between the pair.
Lauber has long insisted that the meetings had no bearing on this. But it hardly added to his credibility that he and others conveniently forgot one of three apparent meetings with Infantino. The collective memory gap has remained unexplained and could now lead to Lauber’s unprecedented fall from grace.
“This federal prosecutor has become a disgrace to Switzerland ,” said Roger Nordmann, president of the socialist group of the Federal Assembly.
For its part, FIFA has always maintained that there was nothing suspicious whatsoever about the meetings. But others are not so sure.
Hans-Joachim Eckert, who chaired the adjudicatory chamber of FIFA’s ethics committee until being removed by Infantino in a purge of senior governance watchdogs, was quoted as saying: “There has been no real investigation into Mr. Infantino. It seems that there was a protective shield over the president.”
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