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Federal Prosecutor in Holiday Mood on Lake Baikal: Lauber Goes Down on His Knees Before Russians

Aargauer Zeitung

Switzerland’s Federal Prosecutor’s Office and Russian General Prosecutor’s Office maintain relations that go beyond formal cooperation. Now, this relationship is to be reviewed by the court.

Federal Prosecutor Michael Lauber perplexed by the group photo. It features a Russian-Swiss delegation aboard a yacht sailing along Lake Baikal, the world’s deepest freshwater lake. From that picture, one may conclude that the relations between Switzerland’s Federal Prosecutor’s Office and the Russian General Prosecutor’s Office are closer than with other law enforcement authorities. Dress code: casual. Level of discourse: friendly-like.

In this regard, on Friday, Lauber had one of the most unpleasant addresses in his career. He had to give testimony to the Swiss Federal Criminal Court in Bellinzona. Yet, not in his customary role of the Senior Prosecutor, but as a witness in a corruption case. The Court wanted to know Lauber’s opinion regarding trips of his personal adviser Viktor K.* who worked for the Federal Criminal Police for twenty years and assisted the Federal Prosecutor in all major cases involving Russia.

Viktor K. had a talent of building connections with the Russian judicial system in most desperate situations. In doing so, he might have gone beyond the law. The court heard a case of bear hunting in which Bern’s chief investigator took part to maintain relations. The defendant is to give evidence today, on Tuesday. The verdict is to be announced tonight. How should one treat this way of maintaining relationship? To find this out, the judge also asked questions as to the 2014 trip of the Federal Prosecutor to a conference held in the Siberian city of Irkutsk. Lauber acknowledged the fact of the trip and said that all of its aspects had been described in relevant documents.

Even without that, however, the unofficial atmosphere of that trip is probably documented better than Lauber would want. While there exist no documentary evidence as to his arrangements with the FIFA boss Gianni Infantino, as far as the trip to Russia is concerned, there even exist a number of photographs, and one of those photos is a group portrait.

According to the photograph, Saak Karapetyan, Deputy Prosecutor General of the Russian Federation, acts as a hospitable host. He puts his arms around his Swiss guests. Russian Expert of the Federal Criminal Police Viktor K. stands side by side with him. In front of them, Michael Lauber is smiling as one of his knees touches the ground. In such an environment, he is “Mike” as his colleagues call him. He wears jeans and a puffer jacket over his shirt. The group of visitors also includes Patrick Lamon, Federal Prosecutor for Economic Crimes. He had to provide testimony on Friday as well. To the annoyance of the judge, those testimonies turned out to be quite contradictory. He never managed to explain convincingly what he knew and what instructions he had given.

Too Close Relations Among Investigators
What looked like an entertainment trip of a group of elderly people is called “judicial diplomacy.” What it involves is information exchange in the course of the criminal proceedings. Obviously, the purpose of the trip, i.e. attending an anti-money laundering conference, served as a pretext for maintaining relationship. In Siberia, for example, they discussed the proceedings against Ms. Karimova, the daughter of Uzbekistan’s ex-President. The matter involved CHF 800 million frozen on a Swiss account. The Federal Prosecutor’s Office believes that in that sort of discussions, the only way to advance is to take account the customs of other countries. It also means that you cannot say “No” when you are invited on board the yacht.

In the Karimova case, however, the Federal Prosecutor’s Office omitted certain aspects of the Swiss law. Switzerland’s Federal Criminal Court disqualified Patrick Lamon because he had maintained too close relations with the Uzbekistani prosecutors. Moreover, Lamon intended to take charge of the case against his accused colleague, the expert for Russia, but was taken off that case as well.

Through his press office, Michael Lauber said he had nothing to add to what he had told about that trip to the court. He is probably hopeful that this wouldn’t go beyond the testimony in the court.

* Name changed