German prosecutors said Monday they were looking into, but not yet formally investigating, claims that Germany bribed football officials to win the right to host the 2006 World Cup.
“This could be about corruption, fraud or breach of trust,” Frankfurt chief prosecutor Nadja Niesen told SID sports news agency, an AFP subsidiary.
“We will examine the available documents. But we are still at the very beginning and have not yet launched an investigation. This could happen if we can confirm there is initial cause for suspicion.”
Germany won the right to host the 2006 World Cup by beating South Africa by 12 votes to 11 after New Zealand’s Charles Dempsey abstained in the final ballot.
On Friday, Der Spiegel news weekly published a report claiming that the German Football Association (DFB) had a slush fund to buy votes.
The claims sent shock waves through football-mad Germany, where the 2006 World Cup is still referred to as a ‘summer fairytale’.
Steffen Seibert, spokesman for German Chancellor Angela Merkel, said in Monday’s press briefing that “light must be shed on the allegations”.
“But it’s not up to the government, it’s the job of the DFB (German Football Association) and FIFA. We are confident they will accomplish the task.”
Spiegel claims the DFB borrowed 10.3 million Swiss francs (9.53 million euros, $10.83 million) in 2000 from the now-deceased former CEO of German sportswear giant Adidas, Robert Louis-Dreyfus, in order to buy the votes of four Asian members of FIFA’s 24-strong executive committee.
The magazine claimed the DFB then transferred 6.7 million euros — the equivalent of the borrowed Swiss francs at the time — to a FIFA account in 2005 to repay Louis-Dreyfus.
– Fairytale –
The DFB pre-empted Spiegel’s claims by issuing its own statement admitting they had made that last payment to FIFA but denying it had any connection to the 2006 World Cup.
Speaking at the opening of the new German Football Museum in Dortmund on Monday, Wolfgang Niersbach insisted the allegations would not tarnish memories of the 2006 World Cup, which Italy won in the Berlin final.
“The 2006 World Cup was a summer fairytale, remains a summer fairytale and the summer fairytale has not been destroyed,” he told reporters.
“There was no slush fund,” Niersbach insisted. “The World Cup was not bought.”
Niersbach added that the internal investigation had not been completed but said: “I can definitively exclude that this payment was linked to the World Cup.
“We would be glad if this is cleared up as quickly as possible, but I can’t make any forecast how long it will take.”
The DFB has said Der Spiegel produced “no evidence” to back up claims of corruption and Christian Schertz, a lawyer specialising in the media, has been brought in to advise Niersbach and will demand the “DFB has a right to reply”.
On Sunday, Franz Beckenbauer, who led Germany’s successful bid to host the 2006 World Cup, came out to deny the allegations.
“I have not sent anyone money to acquire votes for the awarding of the 2006 World Cup to Germany,” said the 70-year-old football legend in a statement.
“And I’m sure that no other member of the bidding committee did either.” – Agence France-Presse