FIFA sends 1,300-page corruption probe to Swiss prosecutors

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Friday March 31st, 2017

GENEVA (AP) – FIFA has sent 1,300 pages of internal investigation reports into suspected bribery and corruption to Switzerland's attorney general.

However, FIFA said Friday it was legally barred from publishing the full reports or commenting on the evidence or conclusions.

The documents complete a 22-month probe by legal firm Quinn Emanuel, which FIFA retained in the fallout from United States and Swiss federal prosecutors revealing their sprawling investigations of soccer corruption in May 2015.

FIFA has said the U.S.-based law firm, whose hiring helped add $30 million to its published legal costs in 2015, is key to helping retain its institutional status as a victim of corruption and not an accomplice.

''FIFA understands and has agreed that the reports will also be made available to the U.S. authorities,'' FIFA said in a statement.

In a case identified with former U.S. Attorney General Loretta Lynch, the FIFA-commissioned reports will arrive at the U.S. Department of Justice and Brooklyn federal prosecution under new leaders in President Donald Trump's administration.

Switzerland attorney general Michael Lauber remains in control of his office's investigation, which already opened proceedings for suspected criminal mismanagement against former FIFA President Sepp Blatter and his former right-hand man, Jerome Valcke.

Blatter and Valcke, FIFA's CEO-like secretary general since 2007, were put under suspicion in September 2015 and later banned from soccer by the FIFA ethics committee.

It is unclear which other senior FIFA staffers or soccer federation leaders worldwide could be implicated and ultimately indicted on the basis of the investigation reports.

''The proceedings still relate only to the persons named in earlier statements issued by the OAG (office of the attorney general) and further persons unknown,'' Lauber's office said Friday.

In an interim finding last year, FIFA accused Blatter, Valcke and long-time finance director Markus Kattner of self-dealing in agreeing to each others' contracted salaries and World Cup bonuses totaling $80 million. FIFA fired Kattner last May.

In the documents, FIFA does not make a judgment on which individuals could or should be prosecuted, according to a person briefed on the contents. The person, who spoke on condition of anonymity because the reports are confidential, also said some key witnesses refused to speak.

Still, Lauber's office has ''acknowledged FIFA's close and consistent cooperation,'' FIFA said in its statement.

Lauber is also key to sealing the contents of FIFA's more than 1,300 report pages and more than 20,000 pages of evidence to preserve the integrity of his team's investigation.

The Swiss lawyer's office criticized the German soccer federation last year when it released in full a 361-page report into suspected corruption linked to organizing the 2006 World Cup. By publishing so much evidence, the ''risk of collusion'' by suspects, including soccer great Franz Beckenbauer, was increased, the Swiss federal department said then.

The Swiss investigation of Germany's World Cup organizers spun off the broader FIFA case, which was formally launched in Switzerland in November 2014. Then, Blatter and FIFA ethics committee judges sent Lauber reports from an investigation into the 2018 and 2022 World Cup bidding contests led by former U.S. Attorney Michael Garcia.

Swiss prosecutors have examined at least 172 suspected money-laundering transactions through Swiss banks in a case that Lauber's office has said proceedings could take up to five years.

The U.S. case was launched years earlier and had a first star witness in former FIFA executive committee member Chuck Blazer, the most senior American in world soccer during Blatter's presidency. Blazer ran CONCACAF, the North American soccer body, from apartments in Trump Tower in Manhattan and rarely filed tax returns.

U.S. federal authorities have indicted or taken guilty pleas from more than 40 soccer and marketing executives, and marketing agencies, including several former FIFA vice presidents from the Americas.

The case mostly involves bribery linked to regional tournaments and World Cup qualifying games in Latin America, plus a direct link to FIFA in payments totaling $10 million through its accounts, signed off by Valcke in 2008.

Prosecutors using Blazer's testimony allege the money was bribes funneled from South African organizers of the 2010 World Cup in exchange for hosting votes from CONCACAF delegates on the FIFA executive committee.

Forfeits totaling more than $200 million have been agreed to by people who admitted guilt to U.S. authorities.

FIFA last year made a restitution claim for a share of the money, including for enforced legal costs, based on ''harm to its business relationships, reputation and intangible property.''

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