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Swiss FIFA inquiry investigates 53 suspicious bank transactions

Swiss Attorney General Michael Lauber gestures during a news conference in Bern, Switzerland. Switzerland's Office of the Attorney General (OAG) seized data and documents stored in computer systems at FIFA last month as part of criminal proceedings related to the allocation of the 2018 and 2022 FIFA World Cups in Russia and Qatar

By Karolin Schaps and Mark Hosenball

Swiss prosecutors investigating corruption at world football’s governing body FIFA have identified 53 suspicious bank transactions, the attorney general said on Wednesday, stressing that a complex investigation may take a long time to unfold.

Michael Lauber told journalists he would not rule out interviewing FIFA President Sepp Blatter and General Secretary Jerome Valcke, although Switzerland had so far targetted no individuals in the scandal that has rocked international football.

“We are faced with a complex investigation with many international implications,” he said in his first public comments since his office seized FIFA computer data last month.
“It would not be professional to communicate at this moment a detailed timetable. The world of football needs to be patient. By its nature, this investigation will take more than the legendary 90 minutes,” he said, referring to the length of a match.

Also on Wednesday, Switzerland’s third largest listed bank, Julius Baer, said it had launched its own internal investigation in connection with FIFA. It said it was cooperating with the authorities and did not say when the internal probe had begun.

The attorney general was clear that Blatter and Valcke could be among those summoned for questioning: “There will be formal interviews of all relevant people. By definition, this does not exclude interviewing the president of FIFA and this does not exclude interviewing the secretary general of FIFA.”

Lauber said his team had obtained evidence on 104 relationships between banks and clients, each of which represents several accounts. Switzerland’s Financial Intelligence Unit anti-money laundering agency had identified the 53 suspicious transactions flagged up from information supplied by banks.

Switzerland, where FIFA is based, announced its criminal investigation and seized computers at FIFA headquarters last month on the same day that the United States shook the sport with the announcement of indictments of 14 football officials and businessmen.
Two days later, Blatter was re-elected to a fifth term, only to announce the following week that he would step down.

Swiss authorities have said their criminal investigation specifically targets the decisions to stage the 2018 and 2022 World Cups in Russia and Qatar. Both countries deny wrongdoing and say they are preparing to hold the tournaments on schedule.

Asked whether the Swiss investigation could derail Russia’s plans, Lauber said that decision was not his problem.
Lauber said his work was completely independent of the ongoing US cases. While Switzerland had received and fulfilled a request for legal assistance from the United States, it had not asked for any such help in return, he added.

His investigation was looking closely at material generated by Michael Garcia, an American lawyer hired by FIFA to investigate ethics violations who spent years examining the Russia and Qatar bids.

Garcia’s report has never been published and FIFA has released only a summary which exonerated the Russian and Qatari bids of serious wrongdoing. Garcia quit saying the summary mischaracterised his report. Lauber said the US authorities had not asked for the report.

Lauber said his office had seized nine terabytes of data. By comparison, the US Library of Congress estimates on its website that its entire collection of printed works amounts to 10 terabytes. However, a single personal computer hard drive may hold several terabytes, which can be quickly filled up with material like high definition video.

He said he had no complaints about FIFA’s cooperation to date.
“I don’t care about the timetable of FIFA, I only care about my own timetable,” Lauber told journalists.

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