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Swiss attorney general disciplined over Fifa case, Platini loses ECHR appeal

Switzerland's attorney general Michael Lauber (C) looks on from the parliament's tribune (by FABRICE COFFRINI/AFP via Getty Images)

Swiss attorney general Michael Lauber has been disciplined for misconduct during an investigation into Fifa, while the European Court of Human Rights (ECHR) has today (Thursday) rejected the latest attempt by Michel Platini to clear his name regarding a ban imposed on him by world football’s governing body.

The supervisory authority of the Swiss Federal Prosecutor’s Office (AB-BA) has concluded a probe into Lauber that was first launched in May. The investigation centred on an undisclosed meeting Lauber held with Fifa president Gianni Infantino and his handling of the five-year investigation into the governance of Fifa.

The AB-BA decided to dock eight per cent of Lauber’s salary, which was undisclosed, for one year, stating that his “violations of duty are serious”. The watchdog said Lauber obstructed its probe and had not understood how his behaviour was problematic. “On several occasions he did not speak the truth, acted in a disloyal manner, violated the code of conduct of the federal prosecutor’s office and obstructed the (disciplinary) investigation,” the ruling read.

Lauber had led the process since Fifa, which is headquartered in Zurich, filed a criminal complaint in November 2014. The probe, which treats Fifa as a victim rather than a suspect, was subsequently widened to include all Fifa business following the high-profile raids at a Zurich hotel in May 2015.

Lauber had been required to answer for an undeclared third meeting he had with Infantino in 2017, which he later admitted had been his responsibility to recall. November 2018’s Football Leaks series of reports revealed details of two meetings, which Lauber acknowledged, in 2016, but pressure built after media reports of a third meeting. Infantino is not publicly suspected of wrongdoing in the probe concerning the administration of former Fifa president Sepp Blatter.

Despite the disciplinary probe, Lauber was given a fresh four-year mandate as attorney general back in September. However, he was recused from the wide-ranging Fifa investigation by Switzerland’s federal criminal court.

Lauber was not formally involved as the Office of the Attorney General of Switzerland (OAG) last month filed an indictment against former Fifa secretary general Jérôme Valcke, beIN Media Group chairman and Paris Saint-Germain president Nasser Al-Khelaifi and a “businessman in the sports rights sector” over the award of media rights to various World Cup and Confederations Cup tournaments.

In August, the OAG confirmed that charges had been filed by prosecutors in the country against three former German Football Association (DFB) executives in relation to a payment linked with the 2006 Fifa World Cup, which was hosted by Germany.

Prosecutors claim that ex-DFB presidents Theo Zwanziger and Wolfgang Niersbach, as well as former senior official Horst Schmidt, fraudulently misled members of the supervisory body of the tournament’s organising committee in April 2005 about the true purpose of a €6.7m ($7.5m) payment.

In the indictment, the OAG alleges that Schmidt, Zwanziger and Swiss former Fifa official Urs Linsi jointly committed fraud, while Niersbach was complicit in fraud. The four men have denied any wrongdoing.

Meanwhile, the ECHR has unanimously declared inadmissible former Uefa president Platini’s latest attempt to overturn a punishment imposed on him by Fifa. In its ruling, published today, the Court said aspects of the French football legend’s appeal were “manifestly ill-founded”.

The ruling read: “The Court found in particular that, having regard to the seriousness of the misconduct, the senior position held by Mr Platini in football’s governing bodies and the need to restore the reputation of the sport and of Fifa, the sanction did not appear excessive or arbitrary.

“The domestic bodies had taken account of all the interests at stake in confirming the measure taken by Fifa, subsequently reduced by the Court of Arbitration for Sport (CAS). Lastly, the Court noted that the applicant had been afforded the domestic institutional and procedural safeguards allowing him to challenge Fifa’s decision and submit his arguments in his defence.”

The ECHR ruling comes after Platini had failed with similar appeals to Fifa’s ethics and appeals committees, CAS and the Swiss supreme court. In December, it emerged that Fifa was set to take legal action to reclaim CHF2m (€1.8m/$2.04m) paid to Platini, an episode that led to lengthy bans from football governance for both the Frenchman and Blatter.

The former France captain’s four-year suspension from world football ended in October, effectively making him free to return to the business of the sport. Any return to football governance would likely mean that Platini pays a CHF60,000 fine that is overdue and which he has previously said he would not pay while the ECHR ruling was pending.

In January, international players’ union FIFPro denied reports that Platini had taken up a role with the body, despite its president Philippe Piat announcing that he had appointed Platini as a personal advisor.

Fifa today issued a statement saying that it has “taken note of the decision of the European Court of Human Rights to reject the appeal of Mr. Platini, which the Court considered to be manifestly ill-founded.

The statement continued: “This judgment is in line with the decision of Fifa’s Ethics Committee, which was confirmed by the Court of Arbitration for Sports and also by the Swiss Federal Tribunal. Fifa will continue to seek restitution of the CHF2 million unduly paid by former Fifa President Joseph Blatter to Mr. Platini back in February 2011.”