Qatari espionage operation spied on Infantino/Lauber’s ‘unremembered’ meeting

March 13 – On the eve of the FIFA Congress in Rwanda where Gianni Infantino will be re-elected FIFA president, the Italian-Swiss football official has been further embarrassed following a report in Swiss Sunday newspaper Neue Zürcher Zeitung that Qatar spied in 2017 on Infantino and then Swiss attorney general Michael Lauber.

It is a meeting that neither Lauber, who was investigating FIFA officials, nor Infantino, newly minted into his FIFA presidency, say they remember.

Six years ago, in June, the Qataris launched ‘Project Matterhorn’ to wiretap the FIFA boss and then federal prosecutor Lauber at Bern’s Schweizerhof, a Qatari-owned hotel that also housed the Gulf nation’s embassy.

The target of the operation was Lauber, who was investigating corruption in the game linked to World Cup bidding, including how Qatar won the hosting of the 2022 World Cup.

From the moment Qatar was awarded the World Cup in 2010, controversy surrounded the tournament with multiple questions around the viability of staging the competition in a country so small with no football tradition.

Qatar came under scrutiny for alleged corruption in the bidding and later for its human rights record as it developed the facilities required to host the World Cup. Project Matterhorn was part of larger espionage operations to protect the country from attempts to strip it of its right to host the 2022 tournament.

In a statement, the Qatari government office dismissed the NZZ report as “another attempt to spread false information about Qatar and damage its reputation. We reject the allegations and are exploring all legal avenues.”

The meetings between Infantino and Lauber in both 2016 and 2017 became infamous as both men said they neither remembered their meetings nor what was discussed. The revelations of the undocumented meetings eventually led to Lauber losing his job.

Infantino is still under criminal investigation in Switzerland for the meetings with Lauber and whether he attempted to influence or provide information on other investigations. In January, he was questioned by special prosecutors Hans Maurer and Ulrich Weder.

FIFA have said that “both FIFA and the FIFA president are fully available to cooperate with the authorities, whether that concerns meetings that the FIFA president had with the former Attorney General of Switzerland, or anything else.”

Last week Swiss prosecutors dropped a criminal investigation into FIFA president Gianni Infantino for the charter of a private jet between Suriname and Geneva in 2017.

Infantino initially said he took the flight from Suriname to Geneva in 2017 to meet with UEFA president Aleksander Ceferin. It later emerged that Ceferin was neither in Geneva on the dates in question, nor was aware of any meeting planned. In fact Infantino meeting later admitted he was meeting with Vassilios Skouris, a former president of the European Court of Justice, who was later that year to be installed by Infantino as the chief judge in FIFA Ethic’s adjudication chamber.

Infantino’s defence was that he was forced to tell to a lie to FIFA’s compliance team over the flight because of the sensitive nature of the meeting which was to line up a replacement for then current FIFA Ethics chief judge Hans-Jochim Eckert and chief investigator Cornel Borbely who were investigating a complaint into Infantino.

Infantino’s meetings with Lauber look to have a similar defence.

See: Swiss justice clears Infantino in ‘Geneva-jet-case’ with message that it is OK to lie

On Wednesday, Infantino will be re-elected unopposed as the world federation’s president for another four-year term at the 73rd FIFA in the Rwandan capital Kigali.

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