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Swiss Lawmakers Vote for More Financial Scrutiny of Sports Officials

  • Reuters

FILE - Fifa President Sepp Blatter.

FILE - Fifa President Sepp Blatter.

Swiss lawmakers on Friday passed a bill 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.

Switzerland is responding to years of corruption allegations with a set of laws which have become known as “Lex FIFA” that 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 head 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.

The bill now goes to Swiss government to be written into law.

This would by necessity increase financial scrutiny of sports officials 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 in May said it would do away with banking secrecy by joining the growing ranks of countries agreeing to share tax information, off FATF blacklists.

Transparency campaigners have said that Switzerland's anti-money laundering laws do not go far enough. For example, no substantial checks are required on cash purchases at the many luxury shops, art dealers and jewelers that dot the high streets of cities such as Geneva and Zurich.

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 organizations 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.