Fifa corruption: Inquiry into World Cup bids 'may take years,' says Swiss attorney general

Michael Lauber has 'not excluded either president Sepp Blatter or secretary general Jérôme Valcke' from being questioned in probe

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The Independent Online

The Switzerland attorney general’s investigation into corruption in the bids for the 2018 and 2022 World Cups could take “months or years”, he has warned.

Michael Lauber has so far identified 53 possible instances of money-laundering and has found suspicious activity spread across 104 different groups of Swiss bank accounts, with his investigators poring through more than 9,000 gigabytes of data taken from Fifa’s headquarters in Zurich.

If clear evidence of wrongdoing is found on the part of either the Russia or Qatar bid teams, Fifa’s statutes retain the authority to strip either country of the tournament, but timing will be crucial. Lauber said he would do “everything I can to speed up [the process]”.

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Switzerlandís attorney general Michael Lauber speaking at a press conference in Bern, Switzerland, on Wednesday (EPA)

Giving his first press conference since details of the Swiss criminal proceedings were announced three weeks ago – hours after seven top Fifa executives were arrested at the Baur au Lac hotel in Zurich at the request of a separate American investigation – Lauber said: “I am well aware of the enormous public interest in our investigation. Equally enormous is the public interest in an independent criminal procedure.

“Our investigation is of great complexity and quite substantial. To give you an example: the SAG [Switzerland attorney general’s office] has seized around nine terabytes of data. So far, our investigative team has obtained evidence concerning 104 banking relations; be aware that every banking relation represents several bank accounts.”

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Michael Garcia’s inquiry has been widened by the Swiss (Getty)

The Swiss investigation is based on Fifa’s own inquiry, which was conducted by the American lawyer Michael Garcia and handed to them in November. Garcia resigned a month later, complaining that his report had been misrepresented in the short summary of it which was published by Fifa.

Lauber’s investigation could go much further. He said he had “not excluded either the Fifa president [Sepp Blatter] or secretary general [Jérôme Valcke]” from being questioned.

“I have coercive measures and I am independent,” Lauber added. “This is a dynamic process. It could really go everywhere and that is why I don’t want to tell you which direction I put my focus.”

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Sepp Blatter announced his resignation only four days after winning Fifa's presidential election (Getty)

Lauber knows that his investigation has the potential to cost Russia or Qatar their World Cups. The tournament in Russia begins in three years, a matter that did not immediately concern him. “I don’t mind if this has some collateral [damage] somewhere else,” he said. “I don’t care about the timetable of Fifa. I care very much about my own timetable, which I can’t disclose,” he said.

Though the investigation was begun at Fifa’s instigation, the attorney general’s power to look at Swiss bank accounts means the scope has become significantly wider.

 

Fifa has also been at pains to point out that it is the injured party in the investigation into the World Cup bidding process. “For the time being Fifa is the injured party, that is true,” Lauber said. “They filed the report and this is the actual status as we conduct investigations against unknown persons.”

Garcia’s replacement as Fifa’s chief investigator, the Swiss lawyer Cornel Borbely, said: “The independent investigatory chamber of the Fifa ethics committee is carrying out several proceedings into football officials on suspicion of breach of the Fifa code of ethics based on the findings of the investigation into the decision for the 2018 and 2022 World Cups.

“Should new evidence come to light, the investigatory chamber will widen the group of suspects.”

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