ZURICH (Reuters) - The Swiss cabinet proposed tightening anti-corruption laws on Wednesday, pointing to the international sporting federations based in the country as targets of the suggested changes.
"Switzerland is among the countries least affected by corruption and has effective legislation in this regard," said a government statement.
"But suspicions of corruption in the awarding of the hosting of major sporting events have revealed the weaknesses which exist in the field of private corruption."
More than 30 international sporting federations have their headquarters in Switzerland, including soccer's world governing body FIFA which has been hit by a string of corruption scandals over the last three years.
The International Olympic Committee, tainted by a vote-selling scandal involving the Salt Lake City Winter Olympics in 2002, is based in Lausanne and the International Cycling Union, whose sport is plagued by doping scandals, is based in Aigle.
The Swiss government, worried about the effect on the country's image, has commissioned a report into the problem.
On Wednesday, the cabinet opened a public consultation into its proposal that corruption in private organisations should be considered an offence under the penal code.
Currently, corruption is only considered an offence if it involves government officials or distorts market competition.
"In the absence of a classic situation of concurrence, acts of corruption between private parties are not punished," said the government.
"This situation has been increasingly discussed in view of the constant events of corruption observed in the international sporting federations."
"Because of this, private corruption should be regulated within the penal code and should no longer depend on a situation of concurrence.
"For example, acts of corruption committed in the awarding of the organisation of big sporting events should be punishable."
Under the public consultation, Switzerland's cantons, political parties and all parties affected by the proposed legislation have until Sept 5. to put forward comments and suggestions.
After that, the federal department of justice will analyse the answers and present further proposals, before the government decides whether to send the bill to parliament.
FIFA was hit by a vote-buying scandal in 2011 in the run-up to the awarding of the 2018 and 2022 World Cups which led to bans for two members of its executive committee.
Since then, two other executive committee members have been banned, another is provisionally suspended and under investigation while three more have quit, including former power-brokers Jack Warner and Ricardo Teixeira.
FIFA said in a statement that it would have to analyse the proposal before commenting.
It added: "FIFA welcomes initiatives that make a concrete contribution in the fight against corruption as they represent a fundamental support for its own governance process."
(Reporting by Martin De Sa Pinto; Writing by Brian Homewood in Berne; Editing by Ken Ferris)