Franz Beckenbauer is facing a Swiss criminal investigation on suspicion of financial corruption together with three fellow key movers behind Germany’s successful bid to host the 2006 World Cup.
The Attorney General of Switzerland named 70-year-old Beckenbauer, a World Cup winner with West Germany as a player in 1974 and as manager of the team 16 years later, as one of four suspects.
The Swiss prosecutor’s office said searches “for the collection of evidence” were carried out simultaneously at eight separate locations yesterday, and “various suspects were questioned”.
The other suspects named are former German Football Association (DFB) presidents Wolfgang Niersbach and Theo Zwanziger, and former general secretary Horst Rudolf Schmidt. All four were senior figures at the DFB during Germany’s World Cup bid campaign, of which Beckenbauer was the figurehead, and all were on the executive board of the 2006 World Cup organising committee, with Beckenbauer its president.
The prosecutor identified all four in its statement yesterday, and said: “The proceedings relate in particular to allegations of fraud, criminal mismanagement, money laundering and misappropriation.”
German news magazine Der Spiegel last October alleged a slush fund of €6.7million (£5.6m) existed and was used to acquire four key votes from Asia in time for the July 2000 vote. The magazine claimed the fund was set up using money provided by former Adidas chief executive Robert Louis-Dreyfus, acting in a private capacity.
Der Spiegel claimed the money was later re-paid to Dreyfus in 2005 using Zurich-based world governing body Fifa as cover – the German World Cup organising committee made a €6.7m contribution for a gala opening ceremony at Berlin’s Olympic Stadium which was cancelled five months before the start of the tournament.
The publication alleged the money was paid into a Fifa bank account in Geneva and from there transferred to a Zurich account belonging to Louis-Dreyfus, who has since died.
Beckenbauer, speaking to German newspaper Bild at the time of the allegations, accepted responsibility for the DFB’s “mistake” in making the payment to Fifa in April 2005, but strenuously denied the theory that bribes were used to secure any votes. There is also no suggestion Niersbach, Zwanziger or Schmidt knew of or were involved in any alleged bribery.
The Swiss attorney general’s statement yesterday read: “The investigations focus on the joint financing of a gala event, initially at the cost of €7m (£5.9m), later reduced to €6.7m. It is suspected that the suspects knew that this sum was not being used to fund the gala event, but instead to repay a debt that was not owed by the DFB. In particular, it is suspected that the suspects wilfully misled their fellow members of the executive board of the organising committee for the 2006 World Cup.
“This was presumably done by the use of false pretences or concealment of the truth, thus inducing the other committee members to act in a manner that caused DFB a financial loss.”
A probe into the World Cup bid, commissioned by the DFB and conducted by law firm Freshfields Bruckhaus Deringer, determined in March that it could not rule out the possibility of vote-buying, and discovered that the slush fund money ended up in an account owned by former Fifa executive committee member Mohamed bin Hammam.
Qatari Bin Hammam was banned for life from all football-related activity in 2011 after being found guilty of bribery in relation to that year’s Fifa presidential election.