March 4, 2020 / 1:02 PM / 25 days ago

Watchdog cuts Swiss attorney general's pay after FIFA case disciplinary probe

ZURICH (Reuters) - Switzerland’s attorney general has had his pay cut by 8% for a year after a watchdog found he repeatedly told falsehoods and broke a prosecutors’ code of conduct in handling a soccer corruption probe.

FILE PHOTO: Swiss Attorney General Michael Lauber attends a news conference after its department's watchdog investigation on his private meetings with FIFA President Gianni Infantino, in Bern, Switzerland May 10, 2019. REUTERS/Denis Balibouse/File Photo

In a disciplinary review of Michael Lauber’s work, the oversight agency also concluded that Lauber acted disloyally and had tried to block the watchdog’s investigation.

“The totality of his violation of duties is significant,” the independent AB-BA agency, which has been in a running feud with Lauber for months, said in a statement.

Parliament in September elected Lauber to a third term as the top Swiss prosecutor, opting for continuity despite the disciplinary proceedings over allegations that he mishandled the soccer probe.

Lauber’s office said it took note of the statement, which it said was not final and could face a court challenge. “Attorney General Lauber and his legal representatives reserve (the right to) all legal steps,” it said.

The watchdog’s verdict can be appealed to the Swiss Federal Administrative Court within 30 days.

Lauber was thrown into the limelight when details emerged of confidential meetings he and another high-level prosecutor held with FIFA officials while investigating suspected corruption in world soccer. [nL5N26G1NT]

The resulting questions over their impartiality sent shockwaves through the Swiss justice system.

The narrow vote keeping Lauber attorney general until the end of 2023 contradicted a recommendation against his re-election by parliament’s courts committee.

The panel had said a scandal surrounding 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 has defended his office’s handling of the case, noting global soccer body FIFA itself was not a target of the probe. A fraud trial of four soccer officials from Germany and Switzerland linked to the 2006 World Cup is slated to start next week.

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 the 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.

Reporting by Michael Shields, Editing by William Maclean

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