Top Swiss prosecutor faces possible impeachment over FIFA probe

Attorney General Michael Lauber could be removed from office over alleged bungling of anti-corruption investigation.

    Michael Lauber is also appealing against a watchdog's findings from earlier this year [File: Denis Balibouse/Reuters]
    Michael Lauber is also appealing against a watchdog's findings from earlier this year [File: Denis Balibouse/Reuters]

    Switzerland has moved closer to removing Attorney General Michael Lauber from office after a parliamentary panel launched impeachment proceedings against the top Swiss prosecutor relating to his probe of corruption in world football.

    The judicial committee voted on Wednesday by 13 to four to move against Lauber "on suspicion of serious breach of duty". That followed his appearance in front of the panel to questions about his handling of the investigation of corruption involving football's global governing body, FIFA.

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    The Swiss parliament's judicial committee wants to know if there was any collusion between Swiss prosecutors and FIFA, which is based in Zurich.

    Lauber has been accused by anti-corruption campaigners of bungling a fraud trial regarding payments linked to Germany's 2006 World Cup, and in March saw his pay cut 8 percent by an independent watchdog after it found he told falsehoods and violated prosecutors' codes of conduct.

    "The judicial committee opens an impeachment hearing when there is reasonable suspicion the accused willfully or with gross negligence seriously violated his official duties, or otherwise has lost the ability to fulfil them," Andrea Caroni, the committee chairman, told reporters.

    If Lauber is found to have committed a breach, the judicial committee will submit a motion to the Swiss parliament to vote on his removal, Caroni said. 

    Lauber, Switzerland's attorney general since 2012, was questioned on Wednesday about alleged inappropriate contacts between his office and FIFA, as well as email correspondence concerning FIFA President Gianni Infantino, Caroni said. Infantino is not accused of wrongdoing.

    FIFA has never denied the informal meetings between Infantino and Lauber in 2016 and 2017, saying they were intended to show that the federation was "ready to cooperate with the Swiss justice system".

    Switzerland has pursued a number of cases since a raid on a luxury hotel in Zurich in May 2015 led to the arrests of several FIFA executives and exposed an allegedly corrupt underbelly in world football.

    Lauber's office took note of the panel's decision and said he would carry on with his duties during the upcoming process, saying it would not affect the office's operations.

    Lauber, who is appealing the watchdog's findings against him from earlier this year, is the first Swiss national official to undergo an impeachment process since the foundation of the modern country in 1848.

    SOURCE: News agencies