By Andrew Warshaw
February 26 – FIFA’s attempt to finally get to the bottom of the alleged vote-buying scandal linked to Germany’s staging of the 2006 World Cup is over – with those at the heart of the probe free from further scrutiny.
World football’s governing body has been forced to close their investigation into German legend Franz Beckenbauer, who ran the 2006 organising committee, and two other top officials in a case that has dragged on for years but has now been terminated because the statute of limitations has expired.
Last June, FIFA president Gianni Infantino declared his organisation had not given up getting its money back following the collapse of the 2006 World Cup fraud trial in Switzerland, brought by federal prosecutors, bullishly insisting the story “is not finished” .
Prosecutors alleged that one-time German Football Association (DFB) leaders Theo Zwanziger, Wolfgang Niersbach and Horst Schmidt plus former FIFA number two Urs Linsi misled the German FA (DFB) about the destination of a CHF10 million (€6.7 million) payment. Beckenbauer, entangled in the case from the start, was not charged because of ill-health.
All three prominent former German football supremos escaped punishment when another statute of limitations, hindered by the coronavirus pandemic, also expired and the case caved in with no judgement.
The money in question 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 been rife that the original payment was used as a slush fund, first reported in German publication Der Spiegel in 2015, to help buy votes to land the 2006 tournament. Germany ended up controversially edging out South Africa by a single vote to win 12-11 for the right to stage the tournament dubbed the “summer fairy tale” by organisers.
Shortly after the Swiss-based trial collapsed, FIFA, which launched its original inquiry in March, 2016, issued a strongly-worded statement saying it was “deeply disappointed” there was no judgement before Infantino himself intervened by making it clear FIFA would not give up without a fight.
But that fight is now over with FIFA’s ethics committee ruling “that the conduct of Beckenbauer, Zwanziger and Schmidt in connection with the 2006 FIFA World Cup cannot be prosecuted due to the expiry of the applicable limitation period.”
“Mr. Beckenbauer’s actions were related and limited to the bribe payment of (10 million Swiss francs) to Mr. Bin Hammam, which occurred in 2002,” FIFA ethics judges said.
They also disputed that Beckenbauer’s ill-health prevented him from being properly probed.
“His medical condition did not prevent him from attending events, traveling to foreign countries (despite the COVID pandemic), posing for pictures, making speeches, and giving at least three interviews,” FIFA judges said in their ruling.
“In particular, he did not appear to have any memory problems remembering matches of the 1990 FIFA World Cup, an event occurring 30 years ago, in vivid detail.”
All of which will be a source of immense frustration – and no doubt anger – to Infantino and the FIFA ethics apparatus but one of huge relief for those who for years had been under constant suspicion.
Contact the writer of this story at firstname.lastname@example.org