Swiss open new FIFA probe

Authorities say they’re reviewing 53 possible money laundering cases


Swiss Attorney General Michael Lauber has opened an investigation into FIFA and the selection of the 2018 and 2022 World Cup tournament sites, including connections to numerous bank accounts.  

The Swiss investigation is separate from the U.S. charges that resulted in seven arrests, including Caymanian Jeffrey Webb, in Zurich at the end of May. 

In a press conference on Wednesday, Mr. Lauber said he was looking into 53 suspicious activity reports from Swiss banks, pointing to potential money laundering. In his statement, released on the Swiss government’s website, he said police recovered 9 terabytes of data from FIFA’s computer systems and had already discovered more than 100 banking relationships to investigate.  

“We are faced with a complex investigation with many international implications. The prosecution is ongoing and will take time,” the Swiss attorney general said. 

Mr. Lauber said FIFA president Sepp Blatter and secretary general Jerome Valcke could be interviewed as part of the investigation into awarding the 2018 World Cup tournament to Russia and the 2022 games to Qatar. Days after being elected to a fifth term, Mr. Blatter announced his resignation the week after the Zurich arrests, stepping down from the post he has held since 1998. 

FIFA officials have said in recent weeks that the association could hold a new vote on awarding World Cup tournaments to Russia and Qatar if it turns out bribery was involved in the votes. 

The charges by federal authorities in the United States allege that FIFA officials, including Cayman Islands Football and CONCACAF president Webb and former CIFA secretary general and Webb’s CONCACAF attache Costas Takkas, solicited bribes to award media rights contracts for CONCACAF Gold Cup tournaments. U.S. authorities also allege that former CONCACAF president Jack Warner was involved in taking bribes over many years, including in awarding the 2010 World Cup tournament to South Africa. 

Webb took over as president of CONCACAF in 2012 after then-president Warner resigned amid allegations of corruption.  

The South African government has said it never offered bribes to secure the World Cup. Russia and Qatar have also denied using bribes to win the World Cup spots. Webb, Takkas and five others arrested in Zurich are still in Switzerland awaiting extradition proceedings before they can be sent to the U.S. to face the charges. Warner is in his native Trinidad and Tobago. He has been arrested but is out on bail and said he plans to fight extradition. 

Mr. Lauber said the Swiss investigation is independent of the one being carried out by U.S. authorities, but the two countries are sharing some information. “Documents and data of our Swiss investigation will not be shared automatically with the U.S. counterpart,” he said. He commended Swiss banks for reporting suspicious activity. “We note positively that banks in Switzerland did fulfill their duties to file suspicious activity reports,” he said. 

“The procedure is huge and complex on many levels. I am well aware of that and will act accordingly. The risk of loss of evidence is obvious. Any kind of information on the ongoing investigation provided to the public can boost the danger of suppression of evidence,” Mr. Lauber said in the press statement. 

Money laundering through the Cayman Islands and other jurisdictions figures prominently in the U.S. cases. Former CONCACAF general secretary Charles Blazer admitted to using a Cayman company to launder money through an account at FirstCaribbean International (Cayman) Bank. Blazer, who secretly pleaded guilty in 2013, helped authorities in the U.S. build cases against the other defendants. 

Swiss attorney general Michael Lauber speaks to journalists after a press conference in Bern, Switzerland, on Wednesday.- PHOTO: AP