FIFA chief and Swiss federal prosecutor threatened with investigation

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The Swiss government has appointed a special prosecutor to examine the criminal charges against the president of Fifa, Gianni Infantino, and his own lawyer, federal prosecutor Michael Lauber.

The move ends months of controversy surrounding Lauber, who has almost unlimited power over all criminal investigations in Switzerland, and his management of his agency’s long-standing investigation into corruption in world football.

Revelations last year that Lauber had numerous secret meetings with Infantino to discuss his officials’ sensitive investigations into the football governing body did it all, but derailed the chances of suspected people are successfully tried in Switzerland.

The body is based in Zurich.

The Swiss parliamentary authorities officially transmitted on Monday a file of three criminal complaints, concerning the relations between Mr. Lauber and Mr. Infantino, to the inspection which supervises Mr. Lauber, the AB-BA.

The complaints were accompanied by a formal request for extraordinary legal authorization to investigate his activities and those of Mr. Infantino, independent of the country’s existing investigation structure, which Mr. Lauber chairs.

It was revealed last year that Michael Lauber, Swiss federal prosecutor, had had numerous meetings with the head of FIFA © Arnd Wiegmann / Reuters

The AB-BA said on Friday that it approved Parliament’s request and appointed Stefan Keller, former military forensic investigator and professor of law, special prosecutor.

Under Swiss law, Mr. Keller must independently decide whether the complaints have sufficient substance to be dealt with. If so, he will ask the Swiss Parliament to vote to lift Mr. Lauber’s federal immunity.

“The AB-BA notes that the appointment, as is customary in cases of this type, will only serve for the moment to examine the criminal complaints filed,” said the supervisor.

In a brief statement, Mr. Lauber’s office said that he had “taken note” of Mr. Keller’s appointment but had nothing more to add.

FIFA said it welcomed the “rapid appointment” of the special prosecutor. “FIFA has cooperated fully and transparently with the authorities and will continue to do so,” he added. The agency dismissed the criminal complaints underlying the appointment of the prosecutor on the basis of “anonymous complaints” and said that Mr. Infantino had been the target of such unfounded charges in the past.

Infantino was elected president of FIFA in 2016 on a promise to clean up the world’s most popular sport. But he criticized his attempts to limit the independence and strength of internal ethics bodies.

Emails leaked earlier this year showed that Mr. Infantino intended to pressure Mr. Lauber to drop investigations into his conduct while he was director of legal affairs at the Uefa, the governing body of European football.

Mr. Lauber’s extrajudicial appointments have also been examined in depth in other sensitive and large-scale investigations in Switzerland, including investigations into the 1MDB corruption scandal and the Petrobras-Odebrecht corruption case .

Questions have also been raised recently about Mr. Lauber’s relations with Russian officials and the independence of his office in investigations into money laundering cases linked to suspected Russian corruption in Switzerland .

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The Financial Times reported on Wednesday the growing concern of American and European politicians over Mr Lauber’s apparently sympathetic position towards Moscow.

Mr. Lauber is already the subject of a dismissal procedure from the Swiss Parliament.

It was an extraordinary reversal of fortune for Mr. Lauber who, even 18 months ago, was still widely regarded as one of the most efficient attorneys general in Switzerland.

Charismatic and media savvy, Lauber, first appointed in 2012, sought to restore international confidence in Switzerland as a valued partner for other countries in the fight against corruption and white collar crime.

A mark of his success in this regard came early when in 2015 he worked alongside US Attorney General Loretta Lynch to lay the first charges of explosives against Fifa officials, and dozens of high-profile arrests in the body and its headquarters in Zurich.

Lauber has so far fought tenaciously to remove him from office and has firmly rejected criticism of his conduct.

He aroused considerable respect among many politicians. Despite revelations about the Fifa affair, Mr. Lauber was not re-elected by parliamentarians for a third four-year term until last September.

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