UNESCO World Heritage: Bern has borrowed billions from Fifa.
Reza RafiDeputy Editor-in-Chief SonntagsBlick
Observers of the political landscape in Switzerland were amazed during the football World Cup: Ironically, left-wing Bern stood out for its liberal handling of the morally controversial event in Qatar. A public viewing on public ground was made possible without much fuss. Other cities dominated by red and green were much more rigorous, Zurich even issued a ban.
Loans totaling 1.8 billion since 2017
The reason for the Qatar-friendly course in the Zähringer city could have been a financial performance, the dimensions of which have only been known since yesterday: the Bernese executive and Fifa President Gianni Infantino (52) played the role of Claire Zachanassian, who Billionaire from Dürrenmatt’s “Visit of the Old Lady”, who promises money to the clammy small town of Güllen. The difference to the world-famous piece: the small town is called Bern, the amount is higher and Fifa does not ask for murder in return.
The background: Because two middle and FDP parliamentarians had stumbled across Fifa loans in the Bern annual accounts, they made an inquiry. It came out that the city received 158 million francs from world football’s governing body last year.
Yesterday, the authorities put the cards on the table and amazed the whole nation: Since 2017, the federal city has received loans amounting to 1.8 billion francs – plus negative interest, which amounted to three million francs in the period in question. The matter was handled through Loanboox, a platform for debt capital.
Suddenly an SP politician is defending Fifa
Fifa as a source of liquidity makes you sit up and take notice: On the one hand, a booming double standard is revealed. In an interview with the Tamedia newspapers, the Stadtbern CFO Michael Aebersold (60) sounds like a Fifa lobbyist: when he differentiates the problems surrounding Qatar beyond recognition, when he points out that the executive “based on facts” instead of moral aspects decide when he emphasizes that the association “has not yet been convicted” for corruption and that Fifa awarded the World Cup to the emirate “years ago” – but, according to Aebersold, they did not build it there. Usually SP comrades are less squeamish when it comes to criticism of Fifa and the 2022 World Cup.
Above all, the question arises as to the origin of the financial resources. Allegations of suspected cases of bribery, unfair business dealings and fraud have been circulating in the world football association’s environment since the rise to a billion-dollar machine. Fifa denies such allegations, in processes it appears as a victim.
Financial Inspectorate checked practice several times
According to the city of Berne, the football officials always made the best offer to bridge the bottlenecks between tax receipts. But isn’t the public sector entering the risk zone in this way?
“Fifa does not have a license as a bank or for other financial services that require a license in Switzerland,” Tobias Lux from the Swiss Financial Market Supervisory Authority (Finma) clarifies.
The 1.8 billion found their way through a legal loophole: loans can be granted in Switzerland without a permit. Only: anyone who does this for commercial purposes is subject to the Money Laundering Act, i.e. strict compliance rules and controlling.
In this case, however, the two contracting parties in Bern and Zurich benefit from a special feature. “There are exceptions, for example, if the loans are interest-free and free of charge,” says Lux. As long as Fifa on the Aare does not collect any interest, this can be done without further supervision.
The city of Bern’s financial inspectorate had already taken a close look at borrowing via Loanboox, as its head Shanna Wagner says. In 2022, there was a new, routine investigation into this practice: “In January, compliance with the guidelines for debt and asset management was checked,” says Wagner, with “financial issues” in focus. The result was “good”.
As always Bern goes on: In contrast to the Dürrenmatt drama, nobody dies in this one – at most a bit of credibility.