By Paul Nicholson
May 20 – Today is a big one for the beleaguered Swiss attorney general Michael Lauber (pictured) who has seen his FIFA cases fall like dominoes amid a growing global concern over his relationship with FIFA president Gianni Infantino, and whether a series of undocumented meetings have altered the natural course of justice.
Lauber as head of the Swiss prosecutor’s office faces formal questioning by members of the judicial commission of the Swiss Federal Assembly. The politicians will then decide whether to initiate a dismissal procedure for Lauber.
This makes it not just a big day for Lauber, but also for the global reputation and trust in the Swiss justice system – the legal jurisdiction under which most of the world’s game is so often and so righteously administered.
And that in turn makes it a pretty big day for football governance. A lot of dirty water has passed under the bridge since the US Justice Department’s mob-handed march into Zurich, the home of FIFA, in May 2015 and the arrests and indictments that followed.
What also followed, eventually, was a new FIFA president in the shape of Gianni Infantino. A new Swiss face to lead what now looks to everyone – except Lauber and Infantino – an even more unsavoury, institutionally corrupt, FIFA cabal, than the one the FBI had got rid of and which the Swiss judiciary were left to so woefully sweep up.
The core business of the hearing will be the three informal meetings in 2016 and 2017 between Lauber and Infantino that were undocumented. Of particular interest will be the meeting that Lauber failed to declare in Bern in June 2016 when he was brought before the supervisory authority of the Swiss public prosecutor’s office for questioning.
Just how chummy had the Infantino-Lauber relationship become is at the heart of the matter? FIFA responded to a criminal complaint last week in Bern relating to Infantino and these secret meetings, saying that it will always meet and work with prosecutors in whatever part of the world to fight crime and protect their game.
On the face of it there is no problem with that – it’s what the world of football expects. Except when those meetings are secret, undocumented and potentially inciting a breach of the judicial process for personal gain. And here they are again; those personal gain/enrichment words that so dominated the 2015 language of FIFA criminal prosecution.
The Swiss politicians today want to know just how chummy their prosecutor had become with the leader of the organisation that runs the world’s biggest and best sports tournament. The World Cup is much loved worldwide even if the FIFA part of the FIFA World Cup is neither loved or trusted.
The answer to the ‘chummy-ness’ question looks to be ‘very’.
It has now come to light that Switzerland’s former chief prosecutor Oliver Thormann – a relation of Lauber who was himself fired for suspicion of breach of professional secrecy, obstruction of criminal proceedings, granting of an advantage and passive bribery – had suggested that Lauber was made a board member of the FIFA Foundation, the ‘independent’ body chaired by Infantino that promotes social change in the world.
Lauber and Infantino had a responsibility to take a high moral ground, to bring in a new era of transparency to the world of football. By their refusal to follow the protocols of their own country’s law or account for their actions and intentions, they have instead ushered in a dark new era and culture of closed door deals and distrust. And that is now reflecting unfavourably on a country as well as a sport.
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