Franz Beckenbauer, the first man to win the World Cup as a player and manager, is facing a criminal investigation in Switzerland on suspicion of financial corruption. Prosecutors have named him as one of four men suspected of fraud, criminal mismanagement, money laundering and misappropriation during Germany's bid for the 2006 World Cup.
Beckenbauer’s home in Austria was reported to be among eight premises searched on Thursday, with the co-operation of the Austrian authorities, “for the collection of evidence”, while the Swiss prosecutor’s office said “various suspects were questioned”.
The 70-year-old, who captained West Germany to in World Cup victory on home soil in 1974 before leading them to the trophy as manager in 1990, was named by Switzerland's attorney general along with former German football association (DFB) officials Wolfgang Niersbach, Theo Zwanziger and Horst Rudolf Schmidt.
All four were members of Germany's World Cup organising committee, with Beckenbauer serving as its president. Last year, German news magazine Der Spiegel accused them of setting up a slush fund worth €6.7 million to acquire support from Asia for the World Cup vote in June 2000, with funds provided by former Adidas chief executive Robert Louis-Dreyfus.
Der Spiegel alleged that Dreyfus was later reimbursed through Fifa after the German World Cup organising committee made a €6.7 million contribution for a gala opening ceremony at Berlin's Olympic Stadium. The gala was then cancelled five months before the start of the tournament.
Beckenbauer accepted responsibility for the DFB’s “mistake” in making the payment to Fifa in April 2005, but has always denied that any votes were bought by bribes. There is also no suggestion that Niersbach, Zwanziger or Schmidt knew of or were involved in any alleged bribery.
“The investigations focus on the joint financing of a gala event, initially at the cost of €7 million, later reduced to €6.7 million,” read the Swiss attorney general’s statement. “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.
The Swiss prosecutor’s investigation, kept private until now, began last November.
The prosecutor’s office explained its interest in the case by stating: “Swiss jurisdiction in the proceedings is based on the fact that certain of the alleged criminal acts were carried out in Switzerland, which is also the suspected place of unlawful enrichment.”
Beckenbauer travelled the world to gain support for Germany’s bid, which faced rival campaigns from England, South Africa, Morocco and Brazil. Brazil withdrew from the running days before the vote was held in July 2000.
Germany beat South Africa by 12 to 11 in the final round of voting to secure the 2006 tournament, after Oceania delegate Charlie Dempsey, who was expected to vote for South Africa, controversially abstained at the last minute. New Zealander Dempsey was awarded Fifa’s order of merit in 2004, and died in 2008, aged 87.
– Guardian Service