December 12, 2014 / 7:55 AM / 3 years ago

Swiss lawmakers approve more financial scrutiny of sports officials

BERNE (Reuters) - Swiss lawmakers passed a bill on Friday that would subject sports officials -- such as the head of soccer’s governing body, FIFA, and the International Olympic Committee -- to more financial scrutiny by banks in Switzerland.

Journalists are reflected in a logo at the FIFA headquarters after a meeting of the executive committee in Zurich October 4, 2013. FIFA has launched a consultation process to decide whether to stage the 2022 World Cup in Qatar outside the traditional June-July slot and will not make a decision until next year, Blatter said on Friday. Qatar was awarded the right to host the competition in December 2010 in a decision based on its plans to stage the event in June-July using air-conditioned stadiums to combat the fierce heat. Despite Qatar's assurances that the plan is viable, there has been widespread concern over the health of the players and visiting fans in the searing conditions of the desert summer. REUTERS/Arnd Wiegmann (SWITZERLAND - Tags: SPORT SOCCER BUSINESS LOGO)

Switzerland is responding to years of corruption allegations with a set of laws that have become known as “Lex FIFA”, which aim to tighten oversight of the approximately 60 sporting bodies based here.

Swiss lawmakers voted 128 to 62 in favor of revising a broader bill designed to fight money laundering, based on guidelines set up by the intergovernmental Financial Action Task Force (FATF).

The bill now includes wording saying FIFA head Sepp Blatter and other sports executives, such as International Olympic Committee President Thomas Bach, should be treated as “politically exposed persons” - a term justice officials use to define those in positions that could be abused to launder money.

Bach, who on Monday pushed through sweeping reforms of Olympic bidding, said he welcomed the measures “wholeheartedly.”

The IOC will audit its accounts to higher standards than legally required of the organization and will provide a yearly finance report, including the allowance policy for all IOC members, Bach said.

FIFA said it supports government efforts to tackle corruption but didn’t comment specifically on the bill, which now goes to Swiss government to be written into law.

The bill increases financial scrutiny of sports officials by necessity, because Switzerland’s banks are legally required to ensure funds are not of suspicious origin before they accept them.

The broader money-laundering guidelines aim to keep Switzerland, which is effectively doing away with banking secrecy, off FATF blacklists. [ID:nL6N0NS4EA]

Global corruption watchdog Transparency International welcomed the bill’s passage. But it said Switzerland should go a step further and make private corruption a criminal offense, to give prosecutors more leeway to crack down on wrong-doing in sport.

The campaign to increase oversight of major sports bodies has been led since 2010 by lawmaker Roland Buechel, who says he is concerned that negative headlines around these organisations are tarnishing Switzerland’s image.

Sports bodies like the IOC and FIFA enjoy a privileged existence in Switzerland. As non-profit associations, they pay a far lower tax bill than private-sector corporations.

That legal status puts organizations such as FIFA, which posted nearly $1.4 billion in revenue last year, on an equal footing with community projects, for example.

Reporting by Ruben Sprich in Berne, Katharina Bart and Caroline Copley in Zurich, Martina Depetris in Geneva, Editing by Angus MacSwan, Larry King

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