This last week has been fascinating and edifying, and to a frustrated World gives justification to the saying “the wheels of justice grind on, even if they do so ever so slowly.
Swiss Federal AG Michael Lauber announced his intention to retire after the Federal High Court ruled that Swiss judicial supervisory authority had been right in the first place to find wrongdoing in his interactions with FIFA President Gianni Infantino, during various secret meetings at the time that the AG’s office was handling close to a dozen FIFA and UEFA related cases.
The Federal court had dealt with an appeal lodged by Lauber against an 8% fine on his $300,000 annual salary, finding impropriety on the part of Lauber but reducing the fine to 5% of the salary.
Lauber, quite correctly felt that this ruling was a clear vote of no-confidence in him by the same Judiciary at whose apex he literally sat, and he therefore announced his resignation in the most bizarre way possible.
He basically implied that he would resign after he had managed to negotiate his retirement benefits package and immunity from further parliamentary or judicial procedures that could hamper his ability to practice law in Switzerland afterwards.
Upon his eventual resignation on Tuesday, and because the notice period for terminating his employment contract of a federal prosecutor is six months, he would have been due to depart on January 31. But, supposedly due to an accumulated balance of vacation days, he should be able to leave his post on August 31 instead.
State Councilor Carlo Sommaruga, noted that a vacation surplus of such magnitude is simply inconceivable and incompatible with the wording of the regulations governing employment.
National Councilor Christa Markwalder called on the CJ to carefully examine the vacation entitlement of the outgoing attorney general of the Confederation, noting that in no case should he benefit from a golden parachute.
Lauber is scheduled to meet the Parliamentary committee responsible on 18th August to table his “demands” and terms of exit, as if he has any leverage. Infact special prosecutor Stefan Keller has applied to the Judicial Commission of the Federal Assembly to lift the prosecutorial immunity enjoyed by Michael Lauber, to enable criminal charges against him be effected.
This is someone who was begged by politicians across the political divide in Switzerland to resign in the month of May, a request he promptly rebuffed as he saw himself more powerful than anyone else in the federation.
In one of the most immediate and bi-partisan responses to this announcement, Swiss Parliamentarians from all political parties called this stipulation to a resignation by Lauber as “arrogant” but welcomed his resignation with a member of Swiss Parliaments Judiciary committee Ursula Schneider Schuttel saying that “it was the best thing he could do at the moment, there were too many allegations against him.
It is very important statement coming from a Swiss Parliamentarian considering the official ambivalence towards corruption adopted by Swiss Government for decades and which had finally found a home in the Judiciary as exposed by the Lauber – Infantino interactions.
For example, in a letter from the Washington-based Commission on Security and Cooperation in Europe (The US-Helsinki commission) to Swiss Ambassador to the US, Jacques Pitteloud, Co-Chairman Sen. Roger Wicker urged the Government of Switzerland to “take the necessary steps to restore confidence in the integrity of the Magnitsky investigation and ensure its timely resolution”.
“Sergei Magnitsky’s story has become emblematic of the struggle of many Russians to fight the corruption of their own government at great risk to themselves. While I have been dispirited by the brutality shown the Russian journalists and civil society activists who carry on Magnitsky’s legacy of bravely telling the truth, I am also heartened by the tenacity of these individuals. They depend on countries like ours to hold their oppressors to account”, read part of this letter.
Sergei Leonidovich Magnitsky was a Russian tax advisor. His arrest in 2008 and subsequent death after eleven months in police custody generated international media attention and triggered both official and unofficial inquiries into allegations of fraud, theft and human rights violations in Russia.
While working for an American law firm in Moscow in 2007, Magnitsky uncovered the largest tax refund fraud in Russian history, involving the theft of companies belonging to his client Bill Browder, formerly one of the most successful foreign investors in Russia through his firm Hermitage Capital Management.
The letter continues, “Given all that is at stake, I was surprised to learn that a Swiss Federal Police officer (the most senior Russia specialist within Swiss law enforcement with responsibility for investigating the Magnitsky case), Vincenz Schnell, went on a bear-hunting trip with Russian prosecutors paid for by Russian oligarchs. Though he has now been found guilty of accepting this and other gifts from Russia, the Magnitsky case has lingered for years and will be nearing its end when the statute of limitations expires in 2023.”
The delay in cases during the tenure of Lauber came into sharp focus earlier this year when the Swiss courts threw out bribery cases involving former members of the German Football Federation (DFB) revolving around bribes worth close to $10 million given to senior FIFA Executive committee members, for the grant of the hosting rights to the 2006 FIFA World Cup, for being time-barred and therefore past their statute of limitations.
It appears that a pattern has become apparent in the modus operandi of the Swiss AGs office, where deliberate delays in investigation and ultimately bringing the matters to court reeks of corruption, no matter what other sweet-sounding words are used to sugarcoat it.
The US Senator notes eerily that the last Swiss actions in the Magnitsky case that he was aware of were the 2011 freezing of $11 million against Olga and Vladlen Stepanov and the 2012 freezing of $8 million against Prevezon.
Yet this Vincenz Schnell worked under Lauber in the office of the AG, which may show a clear and systemic corruption to keep matters in abeyance for decades at a time until they are time-barred.
Elsewhere, the US Department of Justice earlier this year accused Russia of corrupting FIFA by paying bribes to secure the hosting rights of the World Cup.
The accusation came as part of an indictment of two media executives formerly employed by 21st Century Fox; a former executive of the Spanish media company Imagina Media Audiovisual SL; and an Uruguayan sports marketing company called Full Play Group SA.
Each of these had allegedly paid bribes to secure broadcasting rights. It marked the first time that the US Justice Department had so explicitly pointed the finger at Russia and signals a potential escalation in the approach of US law enforcement to Russian corruption.
So while all this was going on, FIFA President Gianni Infantino was gallivanting around the World and hob-nobbing with US President Donald Trump, courting influence and hoping for his intervention when “s**t finally hit the fan”, but totally oblivious to the seriously entrenched systems and separation of powers in the US.
Russia continues to have an eerie effect on World sports for all the wrong reasons.
Gianni Infantino caused the sacking of FIFA Governance committee Chairman Miguel Maduro because he had single-handedly rejected the ascension of Russian Deputy Prime Minister, Vitaly Mutko, to the FIFA Council.
The rejection was due in large part to the fact that Vitaly Mutko had been banned from the Olympics for life in early December 2017 having been accused of running a huge Russian Olympics doping programme.
Mr Mutko would stand down as president of the Russian Football Union while he contested the ban, even though he has always denied taking part in doping, Russia was still banned from competing in the 2018 Winter Olympics.
This was the guy that Infantino desperately wanted in the FIFA Council as part of his warped influence-peddling and megalomaniacal schemes.
After the sacking from the FIFA Governance committee, Maduro was interviewed by the Sports committee of the British parliament subsequently, where he stated clearly that FIFA was incapable of self-regulation and would require outside intervention to set it on the right ethical and governance course.
And this is where the Russian connection with FIFA becomes a literal “entanglement”…
According to the blog www.wilsoncenter.org, for the US DoJ to come out so openly and accuse Russians of corruption at FIFA had a dual strategy.
While a number of the more than 25 FIFAgate-indicted individuals have since faced legal consequences for accepting bribes, corrupt officials in Russia and other foreign countries embroiled in the scandal have yet to face justice. This is because cases built against these individuals must be developed with the utmost discretion. If an individual knows that they are under indictment, they will cease to travel, which in most cases precludes arrest.
The report states that “Despite this risk, the DoJ decided to make its accusations against Russia and Qatar public. One potential catalyst for the shift in strategy could be recent allegations that the law enforcement agencies of Switzerland, where FIFA is based, were colluding with corrupt FIFA officials”.
In this case, corrupt Swiss law enforcement may have tipped off FIFA officials about possible indictments; the FIFA officials in turn may have tipped off the Russian kleptocrats. If FIFA officials informed Russian kleptocrats that they were being targeted by the investigation, then openly accusing Russian officials of bribery may have helped the DoJ cut its losses.
At that point, those officials would not be traveling anyway for fear of arrest. With that course of action no longer available, a public accusation of bribery became a second-best option.
The Swiss Government has been feeling the heat obviously, with their global standing and especially the long-held perception of confidentiality was being tarnished by the foolishly executed ploy by FIFA President Gianni Infantino.
To the Swiss Government, FIFA represents a small, gang-rendered toe of the larger Swiss body which must be amputated or risk causing sepsis of the entire body.
That is the mind-set of the Swiss Government currently, which has trained its sights on FIFA President Infantino and his co-conspirators in the Federal and cantonal judicial system for what (in the end) are clearly juvenile ends.
There has been a confluence of several factors, for example the letter from the Helsinki Commission, the DoJ announcement of corruption claims against both Russia and FIFA, the implicated judicial officials, the statement to the British Parliament about FIFA corruption, all in rapid succession and which have served to anger the Swiss Government.
FIFA will most likely be made an example of, unless urgent steps are taken to self-cleanse in the medium term.
The Swiss Government cannot accept culpability the perception of collusion with Russian corruption, coming as it has hot on the heels of accusations against Russua of interference in US and UK elections of 2016 and 2019 respectively, the poisoning of Sergei Skripal, a former Russian military officer and double agent for the UK’s intelligence services, and his daughter Yulia Skripal in the city of Salisbury, England, the brazen Olympics sports doping scandal and the annexation of the Crimean peninsula.
The question therefore is, would the Swiss Government throw Infantino under the bus? We admit that he would make a magnificent anti-corruption trophy for the country to hang in its Parliament, bald head, dead eyes and all…
But also, while football is not really a big issue in Switzerland, it is an amazingly serious issue in the rest of Europe and South America, countries that would want to see FIFA cleansed, and willing to make political concessions in exchange.
The next few weeks will be absolutely critical for FIFA in how it manages the fact that its President has been criminally indicted for colluding with a Federal AG who has so many corruption skeletons in his closet.
FIFA has been dealt a terrible hand following the terrible decision-making of Gianni Infantino but its elected officials cannot afford to dither with the situation any longer, especially because it is an open secret that the FIFA Ethics committee will do nothing to compel him to resign or step aside.
If the situation is left to simmer by indecisiveness and the Swiss Government is allowed to step in to restore order through its judicial mechanisms, it will have a snowball effect of extreme sanctions.
Governments are not surgeons who approach such issues with delicate hands, they are almost always hammers which are looking for nails to smash into.
FIFA should not make the mistake of allowing the Swiss Government to reform it because the outcome will leave a terrible taste in the mouths of most of those in there.
It will be better to self-reform urgently including kicking out Infantino, his extremely conflicted heads of key committees and senior employees brought on board through his officially sanctioned policy of nepotism.