September 4, 2019 / 11:33 AM / 11 days ago

Swiss panel recommends not reappointing prosecutor after FIFA meetings

ZURICH (Reuters) - A Swiss parliamentary panel recommended not re-electing Attorney General Michael Lauber after he held undocumented meetings with FIFA President Gianni Infantino even as his office investigated world soccer’s governing body on suspicion of corruption.

FILE PHOTO: Swiss Attorney General Michael Lauber attends a news conference after its department's watchdog investigation on his private meetings with FIFA President Gianni Infantino, in Bern, Switzerland May 10, 2019. REUTERS/Denis Balibouse

The panel said Lauber’s actions had damaged the reputation of the office of Switzerland’s top prosecutor.

“A global assessment of the situation: loss of trust and damaged image of the attorney general,” a parliamentary spokesman said in a statement to Reuters on why the panel voted against another term for Lauber.

“The ability of the entire attorney general’s office to act is at risk.”

Lauber held at least three confidential meetings in 2016 and 2017 with Infantino while his office was carrying out an investigation of several cases of suspected corruption involving Zurich-based FIFA. The prosecutor has defended his office’s handling of the case.

Parliament’s Judicial Committee voted against Lauber by a margin of 9-6, with one abstention, and will give its recommendation to the members of parliament who are set to decide on Sept. 25 whether to reappoint him.

Lauber has fought subsequent legal and disciplinary measures, calling an investigation of the meetings by his office’s overseers an attack on its independence.

“The Federal Prosecutor’s Office has taken note of the decision of the court commission,” his office said in a statement after the vote. “Michael Lauber maintains his candidacy for the 2020-2023 term.”

Parliament could still discount the recommendation and re-elect Lauber, who was appointed in 2012.

In June, Switzerland’s criminal court ordered Lauber to recuse himself from the federal prosecutors’ investigation into corruption in world soccer, ruling that his closed-door meetings with Infantino raised the appearance of bias.

Lauber had appealed the decision and contested one of the presiding judges’ impartiality.

The court’s appeals chamber on Wednesday said it had dismissed four separate requests for recusal filed by Lauber against the judge.

Prosecutors in Lauber’s office who remain on the FIFA case in August filed fraud charges against three former senior German soccer officials and one Swiss over a suspect payment linked to the 2006 World Cup hosted by Germany.

Reporting by John Miller and Brenna Hughes Neghaiwi; Editing by Hugh Lawson

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