Swiss parliament re-elects attorney general Lauber amid FIFA scandal

Swiss Attorney General Michael Lauber gives a statement after his re-election in the Swiss Federal Assembly in Bern, Switzerland, September 25, 2019. REUTERS/Denis Balibouse

The Swiss parliament on Wednesday approved Attorney General Michael Lauber for a third term, opting for continuity despite disciplinary proceedings against him triggered by his handling of a soccer corruption probe.

The narrow vote keeping Lauber attorney general through 2023 contradicted a parliamentary committee’s recommendation against his re-election this month. It had said a scandal surrounding undocumented meetings he held with FIFA President Gianni Infantino had damaged the reputation of Switzerland’s highest prosecutorial office and put federal attorneys’ ability to act at risk.

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

While Lauber had acknowledged two meetings with Infantino that occurred in 2016, he had denied a third meeting reported by media, prompting a disciplinary probe. He later said he did not recall the third meeting but that it must have occurred based on diary entries and text messages.

With 129 votes, Lauber eked out the majority he needed to stay in his role after some lawmakers spoke out in favour of keeping his office running smoothly and not prejudging his actions before the disciplinary probe wraps up.

“It is important to me as a member of parliament that institutions continue to function properly,” said Christian Luescher of the pro-business Liberals, warning against making the attorney general’s office a political football.

A tense-looking Lauber watched from the visitors gallery during parliament’s debate, his jaw working furiously.

“I am grateful to parliament for the confidence it has placed in me,” he said after the vote. “Strengthened by this election I will continue to commit myself to an effective, independent and modern prosecution.”