KEIR RADNEDGE REPORTING —- German football is confronting what has been described as its “greatest crisis since the Bundesliga bribes scandal* of the 1970s” over a slush fund to buy votes to swing hosting of the 2006 World Cup.
Suspicions are not new about the manner in which the German bid committee, led by Franz Beckenbauer, edged South Africa by 12-11 in the vote among the executive committee of world federation FIFA.
However previous allegations concerned the awards of TV rights in connection with friendly matches played by Bayern Munich in nations of African members of the exco.
The latest accusations, published by news magazine Spiegel, are spun back out of a payment of €6.7m sent in 2005 to FIFA by the German local organising committee for what was described as a “cultural programme” contribution.
FIFA described the cvlaims as “very serious” and said they would “be reviewed as part of the independent internal investigation currently being conducted by FIFA ”
Niersbach is now also a member of the executive committees of both embattled FIFA and European federation UEFA. The latter has been cast under pressure this week by the crisis over a rogue payment to its president Michel Platini from FIFA in 2011.
Not the only rogue payment brought to light lately.
Bidding for the 2006 World Cup was launched in 2004 and was ultimately contested by England, Germany, Morocco and South Africa.
Spiegel claimed that the German bidding committee set up a slush fund financed to the tune of 10.3m Swiss francs (then 13m German marks) by Robert Louis-Dreyfus who was then chief executive of long-time FIFA and German federation partner Adidas.
Louis-Dreyfus, a millionaire businessman in his own right, had been acting “in a private capacity” and Beckenbauer and Niersbach “and other high-ranking football officials” were aware of the fund by 2005 at the latest.
Spiegel said that “the loan never appeared in the bidding committee’s budget or later, once the tournament had been awarded to Germany, in that of the organizing committee.”
The report continued: “A year and a half before the World Cup, Louis-Dreyfus called in the loan, which by then had a value of €6.7m. Officials of the LOC, of which Beckenbauer had become president and Niersbach vice-president, began looking for a way in 2005 to pay back the illicit funds in an inconspicuous manner.”
Spiegel claimed that, with the knowledge and help of FIFA, “a cover was created with the help of FIFA to facilitate the payment. The Germans made a €6.7m contribution for a gala FIFA Opening Ceremony that had been planned at Berlin’s Olympic Stadium but was later cancelled.
“The money had been paid into a FIFA bank account in Geneva. From there, FIFA allegedly promptly transferred the money to a Zurich account belonging to Louis-Dreyfus.”
FIFA president at the time was Sepp Blatter with Urs Linsi as general secretary.
Louis-Dreyfus had every right to invest in a fighting fund in support of the bid. The substantive issue concerned the use to which the money was put and who took that decision.
Spiegel said: “It appears the loan was used to secure the four votes belonging to Asian representatives on the 24-person FIFA executive committee. The four Asians joined European representatives on the executive committee in casting their ballots for the tournament to be awarded to Germany in the July 2000 vote.
It said that Beckenbauer, Niersbach and the DFB had initially refused to comment.
This [Friday] morning the DFB issued a formal statement which acknowledged a payment had been made to FIFA and there were concerns that the payment had not been made “for the stated purpose.”
The DFB added: “As part of its audit of the DFB has found no evidence of irregularities. Nor has any evidence emerged to suggest that votes of delegates were purchased as part of the application process.” However inquiries were continuing.
The senior directors of the organising committee were president Beckenbauer with executive vice-presidents Horst R Schmidt, Theo Zwanziger and Niersbach.
Schmidt, then general secretary of the DFB, was responsible for key areas such as tournament organisation, venues and stadia, hotels and accommodation, transport and ticketing. He was also the first point of contact for FIFA; Zwanziger, then joint head of the DFB, was responsible for finance, human resources and legal issues; Niersbach, DFB president now, was communications director.
An eight-man supervisory board met formally twice a year under the chairmanship of DFB president Gerhard Mayer-Vorfelder. Other board members included the former Interior Minister Otto Schily, current IOC president Thomas Bach and star player turned businessman Günter Netzer.
The latter represented the interests of Leo Kirch, the Munich media entrepreneur who had bought TV rights to the 2006 World Cup and has taken up further re-sale options after the collapse into bankruptcy of FIFA marketing partner ISL.
Allegations have floated for years that Kirch arranged for Bayern (of which Beckenbauer was now president) to play friendly matches in 2000 and 2001 in Thailand, Tunisia and Malta, all countries with FIFA voters and to which he wanted to sell World Cup TV rights. The match deals were contracted through one of Kirch’s Swiss subsidiaries, an agency named CWL of which Netzer was the head.
The Thai representative on the FIFA exco back then was Worawi Makudi who was voted off only this year and is currently serving a 90-day FIFA ethics suspension over allegations which remain unspecified.
Years later Beckenbauer refuted any suggestions of wrongdoing or conflict of interest. He was quoted by the German media as saying: “Anyone who suggests you can obtain a World Cup through organising some friendly matches has no idea what they are talking about.”
His comments were echoed at the time by long-time associate Fedor Radmann, a former Adidas executive. Radmann said: “It’s not possible. There are clear rules that must be adhered to and we abided by them.”
The greatest controversy of the 2006 bidding process was yet to come.
Blatter was known to want the World Cup awarded to South Africa to repay earlier election promises he had made. Pre-vote estimates considered the Germans and South Africans to be level-pegging. In that case Blatter would have to deliver a casting vote which was expected to benefit South Africa.
Voting by round
The first round of voting finished Germany 10, South Africa 6, England 5, Morocco 3; a second round ended Germany 11, South Africa 11, England 2.
One of England’s two votes had been delivered by Oceania president Charles Dempsey who had been mandated by his confederation to support South Africa once England had been dropped out. England’s other vote had been cast by Scotland’s David Will who was expected now to switch to Germany.
The final round vote was staged the next day, July 7, 2000. But by then, astonishingly, Dempsey had left for his home in New Zealand. He complained later about “intolerable pressure” from the German and South African bids and of bribery attempts. Thus Germany won 12-11 on the third round and Blatter was never called on to deliver a casting vote.
Dempsey died in 2008. But the legacy of bitterness and suspicion about West Germany’s election victory lives on . . . as Spiegel has just demonstrated.
The DFB statement:
“On the occasion of investigations in relation to the world governing body FIFA and because of recurrent speculation in the media, the DFB has reviewed, in recent months, circumstances concerning the award of the 2006 World Cup.
“As part of its audit of the DFB has found no evidence of irregularities. Nor has any evidence emerged to suggest that votes of delegates were purchased as part of the application process.
“In the chronological context of these audits the DFB has become aware that the local organising committee paid a sum of €6.7m to FIFA in April 2005, which may not have been used for the stated purpose (FIFA cultural programme).
“On the basis of this report, the DFB president [Wolfgang Niersbach] has this summer ordered an internal investigation to clarify the issue. The audit, undertaken in consultation with external legal counsel, has examined whether the DFB can make a recovery claim. A final result is not yet available due to the ongoing checks including examination by the control committee.”
** In the early 1970s some 52 players, two coaches and six officials were banned for matchfixing after a self-incriminating whistleblowing exercise by Horst Canellas, then president of Kickers Offenbach.
# # # #