KEIR RADNEDGE REPORTING —- Franz Beckenbauer and two other senior members of the 2006 World Cup organisers are in the clear, as far as FIFA is concerned, over the notorious slush fund scandal
Last July the prosecution in Switzerland of German football powerbrokers on charges arising out of a mystery 10m Swiss francs loan and a non-existent World Cup gala collapsed after exceeding a legal statute of limitations.
The men involved in the court case, conducted in Bellinzona, included former German federation presidents Theo Zwanziger and Wolfgang Niersbach as well as the ex-DFB general secretary Horst R Schmidt.
Action against Beckenbauer, greatest German footballer and who had been president of the 2006 bidding and then organising committees, had been discontinued earlier because of his ill health.
This case was one of more than 20 FIFA-linked actions being investigated by the Swiss judicial authorities, largely following revelations arising out of the FIFAGate corruption scandal which brought the world body to its knees in 2015.
Last July FIFA reacted to the collapse of the Bellinzona case by insisting it would continue to pursue its own investigation.
A statement at the time said:
We cannot accept that a 10m Swiss francs payment is made from FIFA accounts without a proper reason. Even if this has happened many years ago and was symptomatic for the old FIFA, FIFA’s independent Ethics Committee will continue to investigate this and other similar matters.
That investigation has now been wrapped up with an ethics committee conclusion that no action was possible against Beckenbauer, Zwanziger and Schmidt because – here too – the “applicable statute of limitations according to the FIFA Code of Ethics (article 12) has expired.” [Full statement below]
FIFA had launched its original inquiry in March, 2016, over a charge that the trio had breached article 27 of the code for bribery and corruption over the alleged payment of the infamous 10m francs in 2002 to Qatari Mohamed bin Hammam. The latter was then president of the Asian confederation but has since been banned from football for life on unconnected charges.
The case was sparked by events during the 2006 World Cup bidding campaign when Germany was pursuing host rights in competition with South Africa, England and Morocco.
Along the way bid president Beckenbauer had floated the concept of a gala opening ceremony separate from the formal Opening Match.
Nothing more was heard of the idea until after Germany had won the ballot in July 2000 amid controversial circumstances. Oceania president Charlie Dempsey flew home before the final vote, muttering darkly about threats to his life and family. Germany edged the Rainbow Nation by one vote.
Beckenbauer, asked subsequently about the gala, dismissed the project as having been judged too costly – and that was the end of the matter. Except that it was not.
The 2006 World Cup finals were a popular success in which organising committee bosses such as Beckenbauer, then DFB president Zwanziger, Schmidt, the then communications chief Niersbach and FIFA’s own general secretary Linsi all basked.
They would not live happily ever after.
Beckenbauer was not only entangled in the 2018/2022 World Cup awards farrago as a member of the FIFA executive committee but has been battered by health troubles and family tragedy; Zwanziger was ousted as DFB president by Niersbach who had, previously, taken over from Schmidt as ceo; Linsi was abruptly fired by FIFA in 2007.
Years later, in autumn 2015, a damning letter emerged from old DFB files. This revealed that in April 2000 Beckenbauer, on behalf of the bid committee, had obtained a 10.3m Swiss francs loan from the French-Swiss businessman Robert Louis-Dreyfus. The latter was then ceo of Adidas whose long-time ambassadors included . . . Beckenbauer.
Niersbach claimed later that the monies had been needed to meet initial organisational costs and had been set against funds due from FIFA with the approval of its then president, Sepp Blatter.
The German media suspected a slush fund, particularly when it emerged that a similar sum had ended up with the influential Bin Hamman.
Blatter has denied all knowledge or memory of the affair.
Ultimately Louis-Dreyfus demanded his money back. This was repaid not directly by the DFB but by FIFA at the organising committee’s request out of the international federation’s World Cup account. Later Niersbach would excuse this as repayment of a cultural event subsidy originally assigned for that non-existent opening gala.
Other complexities arose. These included Beckenbauer’s pay package and unexplained links with a betting company. The two issues set the German taxman in ongoing pursuit of not only Beckenbauer but Zwanziger, Schmidt and Niersbach for what they knew or did not know about bid revenues.
The Swiss authorities followed on, desperately playing catch-up after being embarrassed on FIFA issues by the US.
Eventually, on March 9 last year the Swiss Federal Criminal Court in Bellinzona opened the doomed fraud trial of Zwanziger, Schmidt, Niersbach and Linsi relating to the 10.3m Swiss francs. All four denied wrongdoing . . . and statutes of limitation have seen to the rest.