Zurich palace discreetly braces for FIFA spotlight

FIFA (AFP)
FIFA (AFP)

Zurich - The Baur au Lac hotel will be fearing for its reputation again when FIFA grandees descend on the discerning palace of opulence in Zurich this week to find a new leader among their shell-shocked ranks.

The hotel, which boasts of being "the ultimate in comfort and privacy", has been the target of police raids and uncomfortable publicity for the last two meetings of football's scandal-tainted world body.

Twice, Swiss investigators, acting on US arrest warrants, staged dawn raids on the exclusive establishment which overlooks Lake Zurich and boasts prices up to €3,450 a night.

With the US corruption inquiry growing, the stiff-lipped management is putting a brave face on the prospect of a third-time unlucky visit ahead of the FIFA presidential vote in the city on Friday.

"As you will understand, we are committed to our guests' requirement for confidentially," said marketing manager Sabine Hall, in an email response to a request for details on how the Baur au Lac was preparing the week.

"Your questions regarding the FIFA we therefore can't answer. We kindly ask you for your understanding."

Opened in 1844 by an Austrian, Johannes Baur, and still owned by his heirs, the Baur au Lac has become a firm favourite with FIFA powers happy to sleep in rooms that in the past were used by the likes of Sissi, wife of Emperor Franz-Joseph I of Austria, composer Richard Wagner or pop star Elton John.

The establishment had never seen anything like the 6:00am raid on May 27 last year when seven football officials were marched away to police cells. All face US charges of involvement in more than $200m of bribes.

The Baur au Lac cutlery shook again on December 3 when two FIFA vice presidents, one from Paraguay and one from Uruguay, were detained for the same reason.

Efforts by managers to shoo away dozens of photographers were in vain. And the hotel will face new attention this week.

The FIFA powers are ready to risk a new stay at the hotel to taste the €217 "Harmony" menu prepared by Michelin-starred French chef Laurent Eperon.

"Several executive committee members and confederation presidents prefer to stay there," said one former FIFA official, speaking on condition of anonymity.

"Executive members and other top officials have the choice between several establishments when they come to Zurich," said another source close to FIFA.

"If they do not make a specific request then a room is reserved at the Baur au Lac," the source added. FIFA has a special agreement with the hotel.

The hotel - where a 50 square metre junior suite costs 1,200 Swiss francs and a Deluxe suite 3,800 Swiss francs - is full for the day of the FIFA vote on Friday.

Police cells are still available.

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