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The FIFA scandal, continued: Swiss probing 53 cases of possible money laundering

The FIFA scandal, continued: Swiss probing 53 cases of possible money laundering

The boat keeps on rocking as the investigation into widespread corruption at world governing body FIFA rolls on. Swiss authorities revealed on Wednesday that they are looking into 53 cases of possible money laundering. By ANTOINETTE MULLER.

As many as 53 possible cases of money laundering are being investigated by the Swiss investigators in the ongoing FIFA meltdown. A further 104 incidents of suspicious activity in Swiss bank accounts are also being looked at. The investigation centres around the awarding of the 2018 World Cup to Russia and the 2022 World Cup to Qatar.

The head of FIFA’s audit and compliance committee, Domenico Scala, said last week that a revote for both World Cups could occur if clear evidence of bribery emerged.

Swiss attorney general Michael Lauber gave an update on the ongoing investigation on Wednesday and shed light on just how much work lies ahead. Around nine terabytes of data was seized from FIFA HQ when offices were raided last month and a number of high-ranking officials were arrested as the FBI zoned in ahead of FIFA’s annual congress in Zurich.

“I am well aware of the enormous public interest in our investigation. Equally enormous is the public interest in an independent criminal procedure,” Lauber said. “Our investigation is of great complexity and quite substantial. To give you an example: The SAG [Swiss 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.”

Lauber also said that “all relevant people” would be interviewed in the investigation process. He did not rule out talking to FIFA president Sepp Blatter, who said that he would be stepping down in the wake of the investigation by the US Justice department. General secretary Jérôme Valcke could also be questioned after letters revealed that he had knowledge of a $10 million payment to the ‘Diaspora Legacy Programme’ in the Caribbean, a payment US prosecutors allege to be a bribe. A special task force has been set up to aid proceedings.

Lauber was careful in disclosing the timeline of the investigation, though, but judging how long the investigation has taken to reach this critical point, a long wait is likely.

“I don’t mind if this has some collateral (damage) somewhere else,” Lauber said. “I don’t care about the timetable of FIFA. I care very much about my own timetable, which I can’t disclose. 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. I have coercive measures and I am independent.”

Lauber did, however, acknowledge that FIFA was indeed the “injured party”, as the Swiss investigation stemmed largely from documents handed over to them by FIFA following an investigation by its ethics committee chief, Michael Garcia.

“For the time being FIFA is the injured party, that is true. They filed the report and this is the actual status as we conduct investigations against unknown persons,” said Lauber. However, he warned that that could change.

“We didn’t start the investigation against FIFA. We started the investigations based on that [report] and based on a mutual legal assistance request from the US.”

Back when the Garcia report was published, Garcia ran into some problems. FIFA voters did not want to meet him to discuss the findings of the report and he did not have the power to subpoena these voters in order to gather further evidence. Russian officials claimed that the computers used to prepare the bid were leased and later on destroyed, and thus were not able to provide evidence.

In South Africa, it is believed that the Hawks will abandon their preliminary investigation, with City Press reporting that insiders said the investigation had not uncovered any information and investigators had not interviewed any officials who were “persons of interest”.

Tokyo Sexwale, a member of the organising committee for South Africa’s soccer World Cup in 2010, has also broken his silence on the issue. He questioned whether the money was spent properly and reiterated the point that the 2010 World Cup was not just a “South African” World Cup.

“It was well-known at the time that this is not just a South African World Cup,” said Sexwale.

“Everybody, even Mandela, said it’s an African World Cup, and there was the addition of Africans who [were] elsewhere. It was a noble thing; there’s nothing wrong with that.” DM

Photo: FIFA president Joseph S. Blatter speaks during a press conference at the FIFA headquarters in Zurich, Switzerland, 02 June 2015. EPA/ENNIO LEANZA

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