By Andrew Warshaw
August 6 – Almost three years after opening an investigation, Swiss prosecutors have indicted three of German football’s most prominent former administrators over suspect payments linked to the 2006 World Cup which the country hosted.
Former DFB presidents Theo Zwanziger and Wolfgang Niersbach as well as ex-DFB general secretary Horst R Schmidt – along with Swiss former FIFA general secretary Urs Linsi – are alleged to have fraudulently misled members of a supervisory body of a DFB committee about the true nature of a payment of about €6.7 million.
The money was said at the time to have been the return of a loan via FIFA from the late Adidas chief executive Robert Louis-Dreyfus. But investigators noted the DFB had earmarked the payment as a contribution to a World Cup gala event which never actually took place.
Allegations have long persisted that the money was instead used for a secret slush fund to buy votes. Germany ended up controversially edging out South Africa by a single vote to win 12-11 for the right to stage the tournament.
Swiss prosecutors specifically want to know how and why the same figure of €6.7 million (CHF 10 million) ended up being transferred three years earlier to a company controlled by disgraced former Asian football supremo Mohamed Bin Hammam.
Bin Hammam, a former candidate for the FIFA presidency, was issued a life ban in 2012 after evidence emerged of him trying to buy votes for the presidency.
Swiss jurisdiction in the proceedings is based on the fact that certain of the alleged criminal acts were carried out in Switzerland. Investigations into the suspect payment eventually forced Niersbach, once touted as a possible UEFA president, to resign as DFB president.
Niersbach, Zwanziger, Schmidt and Linsi have all denied any wrongdoing and last month allegations of money-laundering were dropped. German football legend Franz Beckenbauer, who led Germany’s 2006 bid, also stands accused of fraud and is apparently being investigated separately due to health concerns.
The Swiss Attorney’s Office said in a statement that the four suspects are alleged “to have fraudulently misled the members of a supervisory body of the German Football Association (DFB) organizing committee for the 2006 World Cup about the true nature of a €6.7 million ($7.5 million) payment.”
“The investigations have revealed that in summer 2002 Franz Beckenbauer accepted a loan of CHF10 million in his own name and for his own account from Robert Louis-Dreyfus. This sum was used to fund various payments made via a Swiss law firm to a Qatari company belonging to Mohammed Bin Hammam.”
“The exact purpose of the total payments of CHF10 million to Mohammed Bin Hammam could not be determined – also because a corresponding request for mutual legal assistance made by the OAG to the Qatari authorities in September 2016 remained unanswered until today.”
An internal inquiry commissioned by the German FA and carried out by law firm Freshfields into the bid came up with no evidence of vote-buying but neither was it ruled out. The alleged slush fund has never been proven but World Cup organisers have been under scrutiny ever since Freshfields’ 360-page report attempted to explain a trail of suspect payments.
Earlier this year, just as German football administration appeared back on an even keel, DFB president Reinhard Grindel, who continually banged the drum for greater transparency and accountability, was himself forced to resign after being embroiled in an unrelated domestic scandal.
Ironically Grindel, a television journalist turned politician, was the man tasked with restoring faith in the reputation of Germany’s battered football leadership.
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