By Brenna Hughes Neghaiwi
BERN (Reuters) – Swiss Attorney General Michael Lauber on Friday called a disciplinary probe into his conduct in a soccer corruption investigation an attack on his office’s independence.
The watchdog overseeing Swiss federal prosecutors has ordered a disciplinary investigation into Lauber over private meetings with the head of the global soccer body FIFA.
“It’s not only a full frontal assault on my person,” he told a news conference called after the watchdog announced the investigation. “In my opinion, it’s also an infringement on the independence of the Office of the Attorney General.”
Lauber said “conspiracy theories” over his meetings with FIFA President Gianni Infantino and presumptions of dishonesty were interfering with prosecutorial integrity ahead of a parliamentary vote over his re-election due in June.
Lauber has been investigating several cases of suspected corruption involving FIFA, based in Zurich, dating back to 2014 and the presidency of Sepp Blatter. The criminal probe treats FIFA as a victim rather than a suspect.
Lauber had acknowledged two meetings with current FIFA president Infantino in 2016, saying they were intended to help coordinate his investigation.
But media reports of a third meeting in 2017 prompted a preliminary investigation by the Supervisory Authority for the Office of the Attorney General, which said Lauber had denied having any other such meetings while in office.
Lauber later said he did not recall the third meeting but that it must have occurred based on diary entries and text messages.
“A memory is there or it’s not there. I don’t have any motive to conceal the truth,” he said on Friday.
The Supervisory Authority – which has chided Lauber for not documenting the meetings with Infantino, exposing him to potential allegations of bias – is asking an outside expert to look into the matter. It did not immediately name the expert.
Lauber called the authority’s actions disappointing and arrogant.
“Based on the current situation and the supervisory authority’s report, I have to assume that the authority under its current chairmanship does not assume a relationship of trust,” he said.
Lauber’s office has been involved in a number of sprawling, high-profile money laundering and corruption cases linked to Brazilian state oil firm Petrobras, Malaysian state development fund 1MDB and FIFA, but has yet to bring charges.
The chief of its white-collar crimes unit, which is overseeing all three investigations, was suspended in September over questions regarding his conduct in the FIFA case. He was ultimately cleared by an independent investigation, but resigned from his role in December.
Lauber was quizzed by a parliamentary controls committee on Friday and said he would face other committees next week.
(Reporting by Brenna Hughes Neghaiwi; Editing by Kevin Liffey and Alison Williams)