Swiss lawmakers approve more financial scrutiny of sports officials

Reuters News
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Posted: Dec 12, 2014 2:52 AM

BERNE (Reuters) - 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 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 the Swiss off FATF blacklists. Switzerland said in May it would do away with banking secrecy by joining the growing ranks of countries agreeing to share tax information.

Transparency campaigners have said that Switzerland's anti-money laundering laws do not go far enough. For example, no substantial checks are currently 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.

(Reporting by Ruben Sprich in Berne and Katharina Bart and Caroline Copley in Zurich, Editing by Angus MacSwan, Larry King)