Top Swiss court upholds prosecutor’s removal from soccer corruption probe

Sports

Swiss Attorney General Michael Lauber gives a statement after his re-election in the Swiss Federal Assembly in Bern, Switzerland, September 25, 2019. REUTERS/Denis Balibouse

ZURICH (Reuters) – Switzerland’s top court rejected Attorney General Michael Lauber’s bid to rejoin investigations of corruption in soccer, refusing to overturn a lower court’s ruling that his closed-door meetings with FIFA’s head had raised the appearance of bias.

In a verdict released on Thursday, the Federal Court upheld the Federal Criminal Court’s order in June that Lauber recuse himself from the federal prosecutors’ probe.

Lauber has denied wrongdoing and said “conspiracy theories” over his meetings with FIFA President Gianni Infantino and presumptions of dishonesty were harming prosecutorial integrity.

Lauber had been investigating several cases of suspected corruption involving FIFA, based in Zurich, dating back to 2014 and the presidency of Sepp Blatter. The probe treats FIFA as a victim rather than as a suspect.

Lauber had acknowledged two meetings with Infantino in 2016, saying they were intended to help coordinate the investigation. He later acknowledged a third meeting in 2017 after media reports of the encounter emerged.

Lauber had his pay cut for a year after a watchdog found last month he repeatedly told falsehoods and broke a prosecutors’ code of conduct in handling the probe.

A fraud trial of three former senior German soccer officials and one Swiss over a suspect payment linked to the 2006 World Cup hosted by Germany has already started, but looks on the verge of collapse amid a coronavirus-mandated trial halt as a statute of limitation looms.

Separately, the organisers of the 2022 World Cup in Qatar have strongly denied allegations from the U.S. Department of Justice that bribes were paid to secure votes for the hosting rights to the tournament.

Suspicion and rumours have long surrounded both the 2010 vote by FIFA’s executive to hand the 2018 World Cup to Russia and the 2022 tournament to Qatar.

Reporting by Michael Shields; editing by Nick Macfie

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