Qatar spied on a former Swiss attorney general and bugged his secret meeting with the FIFA chief, amid fears it could be stripped of hosting the 2022 World Cup, media reported Sunday.
An intelligence operation commissioned by Qatar bugged an informal meeting six years ago between Switzerland’s top prosecutor at the time Michael Lauber and FIFA chief Gianni Infantino, the NZZ am Sonntag weekly reported.
The paper said its months-long investigation had revealed that the covert meeting in Bern on June 16, 2017, which after it was revealed cost Lauber his job, had been secretly recorded on behalf of the wealthy Gulf state.
Qatar had denied the allegations, while Lauber’s lawyer told the paper his client was not aware of being spied on, and had not been blackmailed.
Lauber’s office was at the time involved in investigating massive corruption allegations within world football, including irregularities in the decision to award Qatar the 2022 World Cup.
He was forced to step down following revelations that he held three informal meetings with Infantino, and in particular the 2017 one, which he initially denied had happened and maintains he does not remember.
The meeting was held at the luxury Hotel Schweizerhof, which has been run by Qatari owners since 2009, in a conference room located in the same corridor as the Qatari embassy, NZZ pointed out.
Amid fears it risked losing the right to host the 2022 World Cup over allegations of corruption and human rights violations, Qatar had launched an international influence operation.
With the help of former CIA agents, the country had spied on FIFA officials and on Lauber, according to NZZ, which said it had obtained “official secret documents which prove the espionage action” at the Schweizerhof.
The paper also said that sources with direct knowledge of the incident had described the operation, on condition of anonymity, and had said it carried the code name “Project Matterhorn”.
The sources said the main goal of the espionage was to gather incriminating material that could be used to pressure the prosecutor.
Indeed, the paper pointed out, with the bugging campaign, Qatar would have been aware that the Swiss attorney general had provided untrue statements to his supervisory authority when he maintained that no informal meetings took place with Infantino after 2016.
“More leverage is hardly possible,” it said.
NZZ said Lauber’s lawyer had said the former attorney general had no knowledge of any bugging or recording of the Schweizerhof meeting, and had never been blackmailed or approached by Qatari operatives.