Swiss federal prosecutors opened a formal criminal case against German football legend Franz Beckenbauer and three others on Thursday, part of a widening probe into suspected fraud involving Germany’s 2006 World Cup.
Police searches were simultaneously carried out in eight locations, including Beckenbauer’s home in Austria, on behalf of Swiss prosecutors who are investigating corruption linked to Zurich-based FIFAexternal link, world football’s governing body.
Switzerland's attorney general's office said it opened criminal proceedings against Beckenbauer and three other German members of the 2006 World Cup organising committee’s executive board: Horst Rudolf Schmidt, Theo Zwanziger and Wolfgang Niersbach.
In a statementexternal link on Thursday, the office of Swiss Attorney General Michael Lauber confirmed that on November 6, 2015 it opened criminal proceedings in connection with the German Football Association, or Deutscher Fussball-Bund (DFB).
Authorities on Thursday also searched the home former German football official Fedor Radmann’s home in the Swiss village of Appenzell, Swiss newspaper Tages-Anzeiger reported.
The newspaper showed photos of authorities’ cars descending on the private home of Radmann, a well-known sports consultant and confidant of Beckenbauer who served as vice president of the 2006 FIFA World Cup’s organising committee. Lauber’s office confirmed to the newspaper that Radmann also is under investigation.
The Swiss criminal case threatens to tarnish the reputations of both the soccer federation of World Cup champion Germany and that of the 2006 World Cup, which was considered a big success.
“The proceedings relate in particular to allegations of fraud, criminal mismanagement, money laundering and misappropriation,” Lauber’s office said in the statement. “The presumption of innocence applies to all four.”
According to Lauber’s office, the investigations “focus on the joint financing of a gala event, initially at the cost of 7 million euros, later reduced to 6.7 million euros. 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.”
The office says the four are suspected of having “wilfully misled” the other executive board members so that the football association would incur a financial loss. Swiss prosecutors claim jurisdiction because some of the alleged criminal acts were in Switzerland, which is also “the suspected place of unlawful enrichment”.
The Swiss said they worked closely with Austrian and German authorities to carry out the searches for evidence and question suspects.
German organisers of the 2006 World Cup, led by Beckenbauer, have been under investigation by Swiss prosecutors and the FIFA ethics committee over alleged bribery and irregular payments of several million dollars linked to FIFA.
Beckenbauer headed his country’s bid to win the hosting rights in 2000 in a tight vote ahead of a South Africa bid backed by Nelson Mandela. He then chaired the organising committee.
A report published in Der Spiegel in October 2015 claimed the organising committee had set up a slush fund of CHF10.3 million ($10.6 million) to buy votes and secure the right to stage the World Cup.
Beckenbauer, a World Cup-winning player and coach, has previously admitted making mistakes but has denied any wrongdoing over the tournament in Germany. He said he knew nothing of a multi-million dollar payment to a disgraced former FIFA official in Qatar.
Swiss federal prosecutors are investigating the 2006 World Cup allegations as part of a wider probe of FIFA’s business that has already put former president Sepp Blatter under criminal investigation.
Switzerland is also conducting criminal proceedings into the allocation of the 2018 and 2022 World Cups, awarded to Russia and Qatar respectively.
Beckenbauer, Niersbach and Zwanziger also are past or current members of the FIFA executive committee.
In July, the FIFA ethics committee imposed a one-year ban on Niersbach, whose term expires in 2019, for not reporting suspected wrongdoing. Schmidt was vice president of the 2006 organizing committee.
The FIFA ethics committee also has been investigating Beckenbauer, Schmidt and Zwanziger for suspected bribery.
swissinfo.ch and agencies