KEIR RADNEDGE REPORTING —- The raging FIFA World Cup firestorm may be about to burn up another victim with Wolfgang Niersbach’s future as president of the German federation – and thus as a senior member of FIFA and UEFA – now in question.
Niersbach, an executive committee delegate for both world and European federations, had called a press conference today to deal with allegations over a suspicious payment made a decade ago by Germany’s 2006 World Cup organising committee.
However, instead of clarifying matters Niersbach – who been executive vice-president for communications back then – appeared to dig an even deeper hole for not only himself but colleagues on the organising committee including Franz Beckenbauer, its then president.
Beckenbauer is having a bad enough week after confirmation yesterday from the FIFA ethics committee that he is in danger of sanction over his response to its 2018-2022 World Cup bid inquiry (when he was a member of the FIFA exco).
The latest crisis to hit the DFB stemmed from a report by Der Spiegel last week that the 2006 organising committee had connived with FIFA to repay, in a roundabout way, a loan of €6.7m made to its original bid operation by the businessman Robert Louis-Dreyfus.
Spiegel claimed that the money might have been used to finance a slush fund to influence the votes of African, Asian and one European member of the FIFA exco which ultimately awarded the World Cup to Germany ahead of South Africa on a 12-11 vote.
The DFB had responded by conceding it begun investigating in gthe summer why a payment in that sum had been delivered to FIFA for a mystery ‘cultural programme.’
Niersbach began by claiming that the payment was involved in an financial exchange by which FIFA later invested €170 in the World Cup organisational effort. He rejected accusations of vote-buying, saying: “There was no slush fund or bribes paid.”
But he also admitted he could not remember significant details about the payment though he recalled that reimbursement of a private loan from Louis-Dreyfus – then the owner and ceo of Adidas – had been necessary. He was unaware that the reimbursement might have been connected to the cultural programme payment.
He could not explain why such a payment to FIFA had been made if it were to reclaim other funds, nor could he explain why the organising committee had not sought a short-term bank loan rather than accept money from a private individual – and one liable to accusations of a conflict of interest.
Niersbach suggested that the deal might have been agreed in a private meeting between Beckenbauer and the then FIFA president Sepp Blatter. He had no idea what Beckenbauer knew or not.
He did know that Beckenbauer had offered to find the cash from his own funds but had advised against such a provision by his business manager, Robert Schwan.
A FIFA spokesman denied any knowledge not merely of such a payment but even of the contractual need for such a deal.
Apology to DFB
Niersbach apologised for not keeping his DFB board members in the picture as soon as he had launched an internal investigation into the mystery payment during the summer.
He said: “I knew about this issue back in June. It was my mistake not to have informed the members of the board about it earlier. I take full responsibility.”
The DFB has asked an external law firm to investigate the matter and Frankfurt’s state prosecutor is also looking into the allegations.
FIFA said in a statement: “That the financial support of FIFA World Cup Organising Committees should be coupled to any kind of financial advance payment by the respective organising committee or the relevant football association in no way corresponds to FIFA’s standard processes and regulations.
“Furthermore, in general the FIFA finance committee is not authorised to receive payments in any way, nor does it have its own bank account.
“The allegations involving the DFB, the German local organizing committee and the 2006 FIFA World Cup are under review as part of the internal investigation being conducted by FIFA with its outside counsel. FIFA will be requesting that the DFB cooperate in this investigation.”
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