Geneva, Nov 19: The latest twist in FIFA's World Cup bid corruption case has landed on the desk of Switzerland's attorney general. FIFA filed a "criminal complaint" against unnamed individuals, calling on Swiss federal prosecutors to investigate money transfers connected to the 2018 and 2022 World Cup bidding contests that were won by Russia and Qatar.
The unexpected move comes five days after FIFA had welcomed a "degree of closure" on the case. "In particular there seem to be grounds for suspicion that, in isolated cases, international transfers of assets with connections to Switzerland took place, which merit examination by the criminal prosecution authorities," FIFA said in a statement.
The significance of the dramatic-sounding request by FIFA President Sepp Blatter for a criminal investigation was far from clear. But FIFA said Swiss attorney general Michael Lauber will get all 430 confidential pages of American prosecutor Michael Garcia's report.
"The (office) will analyze the documents, presented on a large scale, to violations of criminal law and liability," the Bern-based federal agency said in a statement, adding it would "inform the public in due time about further steps."
Lauber, if he takes jurisdiction, could also have powers denied to Garcia, who was unable to force the handover of financial documents and phone records or to compel key witnesses to cooperate.
"The Swiss criminal prosecution authorities have the ability to conduct investigations under application of criminal procedural coercive measures," the FIFA statement noted. The Swiss prosecutors were brought in nearly four years after an often-discredited FIFA executive committee voted for the World Cup hosts after campaigns riddled with allegations of bribery, favor-seeking and voting pacts.
Tuesday's announcement came five days after FIFA ethics judge Joachim Eckert's summary of Garcia's investigation was widely denounced as a whitewash of the Russian and Qatari bids, and FIFA voters.
But Blatter's move certainly is a changed narrative from FIFA's statement on Thursday following Eckert's decision to close the case against the winning bidders. That move was quickly challenged when Garcia appealed Eckert's decision to FIFA, pointing to "numerous materially incomplete and erroneous representations of the facts and conclusions."