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War crimes prosecutor set to tackle football corruption

As it tries to rebuild its reputation after a series of damaging bribery scandals, football’s world governing body FIFA looks ready to turn to a man used to investigating acts of genocide.

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World football governing body FIFA looks set to follow up its promise to root out corruption from the sport by turning to man who has made his name prosecuting war criminals.

Luis Moreno-Ocampo, 59, who has been chief prosecutor of the International Criminal Court (ICC) in The Hague, has been nominated for a new role as head of FIFA’s soon to be formed investigative body.

The Argentine lawyer, who made his name pursing war criminals like Congolese rebel leader Charles Lubanga, would be tasked with cleaning up an organisation which has been blighted by scandal in recent years.

Moreno-Ocampo, a keen football fan, is the highest profile name on a list of potential investigators drawn up by a 13-member advisory panel set up to oversee changes in the way FIFA is run.

“The fact Luis is on the list shows just how serious we are,” head of the panel Mark Pieth, a Swiss law professor, told Reuters news agency.

The prosecutor’s tenure at the ICC ends in June after which he had been expecting to take on a University teaching post.

Bribery and corruption

FIFA was hit by scandal last year after its officials were accused of taking bribes worth over €100,000 in exchange for backing Qatar’s bid to host the 2022 World Cup.

Mohamed Bin Hammam, the then head of the Asian Football Association and a FIFA executive committee member, was banned for life in July 2011 from football after being found guilty of attempted bribery.

FIFA’s ethics committee found that Bin Hammam was responsible for bribes of around €30,000 offered to officials from the Caribbean Football Union as he sought votes in his bid to challenge Sepp Blatter for the FIFA presidency.

The scandal also claimed FIFA’s vice president Jack Warner, who quit after an internal report accused him of being “an accessory to corruption”.

Despite a cacophony of calls to resign, Blatter stood firm, vowing a radical clean up of FIFA from “inside”.

‘Reputation to lose’

The nomination of Moreno-Ocampo is a clear statement of intent by Pieth’s advisory panel, which has been openly critical of the way FIFA has responded to accusations of foul play in the past.

Speaking before Moreno-Ocampo’s nomination was made public, Peter Goldsmith, a former UK attorney general and member of Pieth’s panel, said only the appointment of a respected name would satisfy those who doubt whether FIFA can really clean up its own act.

Goldsmith said the panel needs someone who “has an international reputation to lose”.
After nine years trying to bring perpetrators of crimes against humanity to justice, no one doubts that Moreno-Ocampo has the clout and respect Goldsmith is seeking.

The growing influence of the ICC, which was the first international body set up to prosecute perpetrators of war crimes, is considered a result of Moreno-Ocampo’s steadfast determination.

“When his term ends, he will hand over an office that still faces formidable challenges, but being relevant is not one of them,” wrote David Bosco in The Atlantic.

Moreno-Ocampo leaves the criminal court at a time when, after 10 years of hard work, it is finally beginning to see the fruit of its labour.

In March, Moreno-Ocampo and the ICC achieved its first conviction since the court was established set up when Thomas Lubanga was found guilty of forcing child soldiers to join his rebel army in the Democratic Republic of Congo.

Moreno-Ocampo grabbed the headlines when he issued arrest warrants for Muammar Gaddafi and his son Saif as he responded to the conflict in Libya.

The prosecutor made his name as a young criminal lawyer in Argentina, when he took on former members of Argentina’s military government who were suspected of committing human rights abuses.

He became known for his willingness to take on the rich and powerful and for his relentless campaigns against corruption - all attributes which will come in handy when taking on football’s rogue officials.

FIFA’s executive committee is expected to meet in June when they are likely to make the Argentine’s appointment official. 

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