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Swiss ice hockey plunged into scandal

The Spengler cup kicked off on Thursday with Swiss ice hockey under a cloud

(Keystone)

Swiss ice hockey's prestigious Spengler Cup, has kicked off in Davos with the sport engulfed by an unprecedented scandal.

Werner Kohler, president of the Swiss ice hockey association, has been forced to step down following allegations that he pocketed a SFr1 million ($713,500) commission.

Kohler, who had been the sport's supremo since 1996, sold the five-year marketing rights for the Swiss ice hockey league to IMG (Switzerland) in the summer of 2000 for SFr64 million.

It has since emerged that a middle-man made two payments of SFr500,000 into accounts belonging to Kohler both at home and abroad.

Following the revelations by the Zurich-based Tages-Anzeiger newspaper earlier this month, the association launched an internal inquiry.

On Tuesday, the association issued a statement saying it had never been informed of, or sanctioned, the payment to its president.

Possible legal action

It said it would be examining whether it could lay criminal or civil charges against those responsible.

"Like my colleagues on the [association's] central committee, I feel betrayed," Jean Martinet, the association's acting president, told swissinfo.

"When the story broke a month ago, we didn't believe there was any truth in it. Werner Kohler denied everything. But when the evidence became overwhelming, he told me personally that he had received this sum."

Kohler, who originally denied receiving the money, has since changed his version of events, arguing that he has done nothing wrong.

"This SFr1 million payment is completely legal and has nothing to do with ice hockey," he said.

"I won't pay back a single (centime)," he told the mass-market Blick newspaper on Friday.

Marketing deal

Neuchâtel-based IMG (Switzerland) has denied any wrongdoing, but has admitted paying SFr1 million to Dominik Senn, of Senn Sport Management, who was involved in the marketing deal with the Swiss ice hockey association.

"It was normal to pay him for this work. What he did with this money is not our concern," said Marc Biver, head of IMG (Switzerland).

For his part, Senn claims he was asked by IMG (Switzerland) to pass the money on to Kohler.

Sport in crisis

The scandal has focused the spotlight on the boardrooms of the Swiss sporting world, which has been hit by a string of revelations about murky financial dealings.

In November, Andreas Hafen, president of FC Wil, was charged with embezzling SFr48 million from his employers, UBS.

Hafen is alleged to have ploughed SFr10 million into the football club, which currently lies in fourth place in the Swiss league.

Then earlier this month, a police investigation into allegations of fraud at Young Boys Bern football club led to the resignations of the club's president, Heinz Fischer, and its manager, Frédy Bickel.

swissinfo, Jonathan Hirsch in Davos

In brief

The Spengler Cup, has kicked off in Davos with the sport engulfed in scandal.

Werner Kohler, president of the Swiss ice hockey association, has been forced to step down following allegations that he pocketed a SFr1 million commission.

The association has launched an internal inquiry.

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