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FIFA launches investigation into awarding of 2006 World Cup

Soccer's world governing body has opened an investigation into Germany's successful bid to host the 2006 World Cup. Among those being targeted is German soccer legend Franz Beckenbauer, who headed the bid committee.

FIFA's Ethics Committee announced on Tuesday that it had opened the investigation in light of a report published by the law firm Freshfields Bruckhaus Deringer earlier this month.

In addition to

Beckenbauer,

former German football association (DFB) presidents Wolfgang Niersbach and Theo Zwanziger, and three other former high-ranking DFB officials - Horst R. Schmidt, Stefan Hans and Helmut Sandrock - are being targeted in the investigation.

In a statement posted on its website, FIFA said the investigatory chamber of the independent Ethics Committee had decided to open the investigation "in the context of the 2006 World Cup host selection and its associated funding."

"In the cases of Mr Beckenbauer, Dr Zwanziger, Mr Schmidt and Mr Hans, the investigatory chamber will investigate possible undue payments and contracts to gain an advantage in the 2006 FIFA World Cup host selection and the associated funding," the statement said.

'Spiegel' allegations

The scandal surrounding the DFB and how Germany won the right to host the 2006 World Cup began with a report published in "Spiegel" newsmagazine last October. It suggested the bid committee had used a slush fund to buy votes in order to win the right to host the tournament.

'Subsidies' unlocked?

Beckenbauer has repeatedly rejected allegations of corruption, claiming the money was paid to FIFA to unlock subsidies to be used in organizing the tournament.

The scandal led Niersbach, who has also denied any wrongdoing, to resign as DFB president last November. His resignation came almost a week after police had raided the DFB's headquarters and his private residence as part of a

tax-evasion investigation

linked to a 2005 payment of 6.7 million euros ($7.51 million) made though FIFA to Robert Louis-Dreyfus, the late former CEO of German sportswear giant Adidas.

The private homes of Zwanziger, Niersbach's predecessor, and Schmidt were also searched. All three were named as suspects in the investigation by Frankfurt's prosecutors' office.

Zwanziger 'astonished' by allegations

Since FIFA announced the launch of its investigation earlier on Tuesday, just two of the men targeted have commented on the development.

"It goes without saying that I will cooperate with this process in every respect and support the investigation of the Ethics Committee, whose work I trust unreservedly," Niersbach told the SID news agency.

Theo Zwanziger, said he was "astonished" by the allegations against him and that he "rejected them in all explicitness."

pfd/dv (dpa, SID)

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