Swiss attorney general offers to quit after court rebuke over FIFA meeting


FILE PHOTO: Swiss Attorney General Michael Lauber arrives to be questioned by the Judicial Committee of the Swiss Parliament as part of proceedings that could lead to his impeachment, after criticism of his handling of an investigation into alleged corruption surrounding football's governing body FIFA, in Bern, Switzerland, May 20, 2020. REUTERS/Arnd Wiegmann

ZURICH (Reuters) - Swiss Attorney General Michael Lauber offered to resign on Friday after a court concluded he covered up a meeting with FIFA head Gianni Infantino and lied to supervisors while his office investigated corruption surrounding soccer's governing body.

The 54-year-old, who has been Switzerland's most senior state lawyer since 2012, denied lying but offered to resign to protect the reputation of his institution.

"If they (the court) do not believe me as attorney general, then the Office of the Attorney General will be harmed," he said in a statement.

Lauber had clung to his job despite damning reports from a government watchdog and calls to quit from campaigners over slow progress in corruption cases ranging from Brazil's Petrobras to Malaysian state fund 1MDB.

Narrowly re-elected last year, he was also facing a parliamentary impeachment process, while a special prosecutor is reviewing criminal complaints against him.

"During the protracted time it has taken Lauber to go, he has managed to systematically run down the institution of the Attorney General's office," said Mark Pieth, a law professor who is Switzerland's best-known corruption fighter.

"Although FIFA is very interesting, the really serious stuff for Switzerland as a financial centre are the cases like 1MDB and Petrobras ... It's embarrassing it's taken so long for him to go."

THREE MEETINGS WITH INFANTINO

The final straw for Lauber came on Friday when the Federal Administrative Court said he committed several breaches of duty, lied to investigators and made "implausible" statements about the meeting with Infantino, who denies any wrongdoing.

Upholding only part of his appeal against a punishment from the Supervisory Authority for the Office of the Attorney General, the court reduced a punitive cut in Lauber's pay.

While Lauber had acknowledged two meetings with Infantino in 2016, he had denied a third meeting reported by media to have occurred in 2017, prompting a disciplinary probe by the agency that supervises the attorney general's office.

He later said he did not recall the third meeting but that it must have occurred based on diary entries and text messages.

FIFA was embroiled in the worst corruption scandal in its history in 2015 which led to its president Sepp Blatter being banned from the sport while several dozen officials were indicted in the United States on corruption-related charges.

A member of the Swiss parliament's judicial committee welcomed Lauber's decision. "In his position the attorney general has to be above suspicion and it would have been damaging if he remained," Ursula Schneider Schuettel told Reuters.

FIFA said it was legitimate and legal for its president to meet with the attorney general as he examined crimes carried out against the organisation. "It's no violation of anything. On the contrary, it is also part of the fiduciary duties of the President of FIFA," a spokesman said.

(Reporting by John Revill; Additional reporting by Brian Homewood; Editing by Michael Shields and Andrew Cawthorne)

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