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FOOTBALL

Swiss prosecutor cleared in FIFA corruption probe, then quits

A Swiss federal prosecutor suspended last month in connection with corruption investigations in the world of football has been cleared of wrongdoing and quit his job, authorities said Friday.

Swiss prosecutor cleared in FIFA corruption probe, then quits
Photo: AFP

The criminal probe into the head of the Swiss federal prosecution's economic crimes division, Olivier Thormann, has been dropped, the attorney general's office (OAG) said in a statement.

The OAG announced last week Thormann's temporary suspension in connection with “investigations into football and FIFA”, but did not specify which probes the prosecutor had been working on or the nature of the charges against him.

But Ulrich Weder, a special prosecutor appointed to investigate the case, told the RTS public broadcaster Friday that Thormann had been accused of “violating trade secrets, accepting benefits and corruption in connection with (his) contacts with a former FIFA employee.”

He was cleared on all counts, OAG said, adding that the prosecutor nonetheless would leave his job.

“Attorney General Michael Lauber and Olivier Thormann jointly decided to end his work contract,” the OAG said, adding that it “thanks Olivier Thormann for the work he has provided.”

Since a raid on a luxury hotel in Zurich in May 2015 led to the arrests of a number of FIFA executives and shone the spotlight on the corrupt underbelly of world football, Switzerland has pursued a number of cases.

Charges have been pressed against former FIFA president Sepp Blatter as well as against FIFA's former Secretary General Jerome Valcke.

Swiss investigators have also searched UEFA's offices in Nyon concerning revelations made in the so-called Panama Papers over a broadcasting rights contract signed by the organisation's former secretary general, Gianni Infantino, the current president of FIFA.

The latest series of Football Leaks allegations meanwhile shone a light on Infantino's relationship with another Swiss prosecutor, Rinaldo Arnold, spurring Swiss authorities to open an investigation.

Infantino allegedly invited Arnold to attend the World Cup in Russia, the 2016 FIFA Congress in Mexico and the Champions League final in Milan that year, in exchange for organising meetings with Lauber and other OAG chiefs.

READ ALSO: Swiss attorney general suspends prosecutor in FIFA probe

FOOTBALL

Putellas becomes second Spanish footballer in history to win Ballon d’Or

Alexia Putellas of Barcelona and Spain won the women's Ballon d'Or prize on Monday, becoming only the second Spanish-born footballer in history to be considered the best in the world, and claiming a win for Spain after a 61-year wait.

FC Barcelona's Spanish midfielder Alexia Putellas poses after being awarded thewomen's Ballon d'Or award.
FC Barcelona's Spanish midfielder Alexia Putellas poses after being awarded thewomen's Ballon d'Or award. Photo: FRANCK FIFE / AFP

Putellas is the third winner of the prize, following in the footsteps of Ada Hegerberg, who won the inaugural women’s Ballon d’Or in 2018, and United States World Cup star Megan Rapinoe, winner in 2019.

Putellas captained Barcelona to victory in this year’s Champions League, scoring a penalty in the final as her side hammered Chelsea 4-0 in Gothenburg.

She also won a Spanish league and cup double with Barca, the club she joined as a teenager in 2012, and helped her country qualify for the upcoming Women’s Euro in England.

Her Barcelona and Spain teammate Jennifer Hermoso finished second in the voting, with Sam Kerr of Chelsea and Australia coming in third.

It completes an awards double for Putellas, who in August was named player of the year by European football’s governing body UEFA.

But it’s also a huge win for Spain as it’s the first time in 61 years that a Spanish footballer – male or female – is crowned the world’s best footballer of the year, and only the second time in history a Spaniard wins the Ballon d’Or. 

Former Spanish midfielder Luis Suárez (not the ex Liverpool and Barça player now at Atlético) was the only Spanish-born footballer to win the award in 1960 while at Inter Milan. Argentinian-born Alfredo Di Stefano, the Real Madrid star who took up Spanish citizenship, also won it in 1959.

Who is Alexia Putellas?

Alexia Putellas grew up dreaming of playing for Barcelona and after clinching the treble of league, cup and Champions League last season, her status as a women’s footballing icon was underlined as she claimed the Ballon d’Or on Monday.

Unlike the men’s side, Barca’s women swept the board last term with the 27-year-old, who wears “Alexia” on the back of her shirt, at the forefront, months before Lionel Messi’s emotional departure.

Attacker Putellas, who turns 28 in February, spent her childhood less than an hour’s car journey from the Camp Nou and she made her first trip to the ground from her hometown of Mollet del Valles, for the Barcelona derby on January 6, 2000.

Barcelona's Spanish midfielder Alexia Putellas (R) vies with VfL Wolfsburg's German defender Kathrin Hendrich
Putellas plays as a striker for Barça and Spain. GABRIEL BOUYS / POOL / AFP

Exactly 21 years later she became the first woman in the modern era to score in the stadium, against Espanyol. Her name was engraved in the club’s history from that day forward, but her story started much earlier.

She started playing the sport in school, against boys.

“My mum had enough of me coming home with bruises on my legs, so she signed me up at a club so that I stopped playing during break-time,” Putellas said last year.

So, with her parent’s insistence, she joined Sabadell before being signed by Barca’s academy.

“That’s where things got serious… But you couldn’t envisage, with all one’s power, to make a living from football,” she said.

After less than a year with “her” outfit, she moved across town to Espanyol and made her first-team debut in 2010 before losing to Barca in the final of the Copa de la Reina.

She then headed south for a season at Valencia-based club Levante before returning “home” in July 2012, signing for Barcelona just two months after her father’s death.

In her first term there she helped Barca win the league and cup double, winning the award for player of the match in the final of the latter competition.

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