KEIR RADNEDGE REPORTING —- When is a meeting not a meeting? Simple. When no-one remembers it. Or, not so simple. This is the latest curious twist in the four-year farrago which threatens to added Swiss Attorney-General Michael Lauber to the ever-lengthening list of FIFA corruption case victims.
Back in the summer of 2015 Lauber took a powerful, up-front stance in demonstrating that his office had its own eye on murky events within the world football federation.
His OAG was not, as critics wondered, merely trying to play catch-up after the United States’ authorities’ FIFAGate revelations.
Lauber told the media that a raid on FIFA offices had yielded nine terabytes of electronic information and “the prosecution is ongoing and will take time.”
He was not kidding.
Four years later probably the most high-profile investigation in Swiss criminal history has seen no charges laid.
The Swiss authorities had shown initial interest in FIFA in November 2014 after the conclusion of its own inquiry into the award of the 2018 and 2022 World Cups. Six months later it readily co-operated in the extradition to the United States and Uruguay of the seven senior football executives seized on the eve of FIFA Congress.
Criminal investigations were launched subsequently by Lauber’s office into the activities of the then FIFA president Sepp Blatter, into his then secretary-general Jerome Valcke and – much later – into allegations against Qatari TV executive Nasser Al-Khelaifi.
The latter also happens to be president of French champions Paris Saint-Germain (and subsequently became a member of the executive committee of European governing body UEFA).
The wide-ranging international inquiries have also delved into financial wrangling behind the awarding of the 2006 World Cup finals to Germany.
Lauber had said, back in June 2015: “The world of football needs to be patient. By its nature, this investigation will take more than the legendary 90 minutes.”
But after four years and no charges it is now Lauber himself who is facing questions over his relationship with Gianni Infantino, Blatter’s successor as FIFA president. The timing of public, political and media focus is delicate because Lauber is standing for re-election by the parliamentary authorities in June.
Last year’s Football Leaks revelations showed that Lauber had held two meetings with Infantino. These had been confidential until then. Lauber’s office later described them as courtesy briefings on the state of an investigation in which FIFA holds victim status.
If only that had been all there was.
Later it emerged that the first meeting had been arranged through an old friend of Infantino, the senior attorney of his ‘home’ Upper Valais province, Rinaldo Arnold. The furore led to Arnold being cleared of malpractice but still being replaced. He was compromised irredeemably by having accepted the gift of World Cup tickets from his old friend Infantino.
A FIFA spokesman said: “The fact that the FIFA president met the general prosecutor in open circumstances and in full transparency to discuss these matters is simply an illustration of FIFA’s willingness to cooperate and to assist the Office of the Attorney General with its work.”
So much for two meetings. Then reports erupted of a third confidential meeting in June 2017 at the Schweizerhof in Bern between Lauber and Infantino.
FIFA has said that Infantino had no recollection of such a meeting while Lauber, initially, said the same.
Later, however, Lauber changed his tune. He conceded in a radio interview that there must have been a third meeting even though he could still not recall it. He said: “I reject accusations of lying or keeping silent and I see no reason to withdraw my candidacy for re-election.”
The head of the federal prosecutor’s office, Hanspeter Uster, was not impressed. He launched an inquiry of his own into Lauber’s conduct and told a media briefing: “Not to record these meetings was a mistake. Informal meetings can be held but afterwards you have to formalise them at least for the record.”
Just for the record, Lauber’s office has launched more than 100 criminal investigations arising out of the initial allegations swirling around Blatter’s FIFA.
Lauber intends to continue to pursue re-election to see them through.