Germany denial over World Cup bribe claim

Fifa is probing claim by magazine, German football federation finds no wrongdoing

LONDON • German football has been drawn into an ever-widening Fifa corruption crisis, after it was alleged that former adidas chief executive Robert Louis-Dreyfus set up a 10.3 million Swiss francs (S$14.9 million) slush fund to buy votes and secure the right to stage the 2006 World Cup.

German magazine Der Spiegel said the money was likely to have been used to secure the votes of four members of the Fifa executive committee before a hugely controversial vote in 2000, in which Germany triumphed by 12 votes to 11 over South Africa.

Louis-Dreyfus, a former majority shareholder in French club Marseille, died in 2009, but is said to have borrowed the money and lent it to the bidding committee.

The executive is said to have called in the loan a year and a half before the World Cup and Der Spiegel alleges that the money was returned to him via Fifa.

The German World Cup organising committee made a €6.7 million (S$10.5 million) contribution for a gala opening ceremony at Berlin's Olympic Stadium which was later cancelled. "The money had been paid into a Fifa bank account in Geneva. From there, Fifa allegedly promptly transferred the money to a Zurich account belonging to Louis-Dreyfus," Spiegel reported.

Der Spiegel said Franz Beckenbauer, the German football legend who headed the bidding committee, and Wolfgang Niersbach, the current president of the German football federation (DFB), as well as other high-ranking football officials, were aware of the slush fund by 2005 at the latest.

Neither Beckenbauer or Niersbach, who could be the next Uefa president, responded to the magazine's request for comment.

The German FA has denied wrongdoing and said a €6.7 million payment by the organising committee of the 2006 World Cup to Fifa was not linked to the awarding of the right to stage the tournament.

Before the story broke, the DFB announced on Friday that it had set up its own probe into the payment.

It said its inquiry had not found any evidence of wrongdoing, adding that it is also investigating whether it has any right to claim that money back, if it is proven that it was not used for its stated purpose.

Fifa said the allegations would be considered as part of an ongoing internal probe and it would continue to cooperate with the ongoing US and Swiss criminal investigations.

"These are very serious allegations. They will be reviewed by Fifa under the direction of its legal director with the assistance of outside counsel," said a spokesman.

Friday also brought confirmation from Sepp Blatter, the Fifa president, of a "gentlemen's agreement" with Michel Platini, the Uefa president, over a £1.35 million (S$ 2.9 million) fee that has resulted in both being banned from all football activities by a Fifa ethics committee.

In an interview with RROTV, the Swiss broadcaster, Blatter claimed that "it was a contract I had with Platini - a gentlemen's agreement".

Platini said last month that the money "relates to work which I carried out under a contract with Fifa" between 1998 and 2002.

Blatter's remarkably indiscreet statement now threatens to derail Platini's ambitions of succeeding him as president.

Fifa also removed the entire executive committee of Thailand's football association on Friday, four days after its president Worawi Makudi was suspended for 90 days pending an ethics investigation by football's governing body.

THE GUARDIAN, THE TIMES, LONDON, REUTERS

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Sunday Times on October 18, 2015, with the headline 'GERMANY DENIAL OVER WORLD CUP BRIBE CLAIM'. Print Edition | Subscribe