Public prosecutors in Cologne have begun questioning Reiner Calmund, the former manager of Bayer Leverkusen, in connection with allegations of match-fixing in German professional soccer.
While the players were fighting for survival on the pitch, were others profting off it?
Prosecutors are trying to find out whether Calmund paid a six-figure sum to ensure that his team wasn’t relegated to the second division at the end of the 2002-2003 season.
The allegations surrounding the former Bundesliga club manager are just the latest to shake professional soccer in Germany, as the country prepares to host the sport's premier event, the World Cup, in June.
Until he left Bayer Leverkusen in the summer of 2004, Reiner Calmund was a favorite among both the fans and German soccer reporters.
This is in part because he was always good for much more than a sound byte. One question from a reporter was enough to launch Calmund into a minutes-long monologue touching on a variety of issues that the reporter hadn’t yet been able to bring up, all delivered in Calmund's colorful Rhineland vernacular.
But his response to reporters seeking answers about his role in an alleged match-fixing scandal was uncharacteristically short and to the point: "I'm completely clean."
He was responding to media reports that Cologne prosecutors were investigating whether payments were made to fix three Bundesliga matches in the 2002-2003 season to help Leverkusen avoid relegation to the second division.
Günther Feld, a Cologne state prosecutor, told German public television at the weekend that his office had obtained written evidence that at least one Bundesliga match involving Bayer Leverkusen in 2003 may have been fixed.
"At first it was just rumors, and then things became more substantive. Our assessment is that there is more to this than just talk or rumors. We believe we have ample reason to investigate," Feld said.
Over half a million euros in unexplained payments
Did Calmund (here with Rudi Völler) look the other way?
The 57-year-old Calmund is being asked to explain a 580,000 euro ($697,421) payment to agent and former player Volker Graul. Graul is also being investigated by prosecutors.
Calmund made out three checks of 50,000, 150,000 and 380,000 euros for Graul's services but Leverkusen claim the reason for the transactions has not been established.
Calmund, who was removed from his post in 2004 due to the unexplained irregularities, said the money was commission for the transfer of two players Graul worked on. However prosecutors are seeking to establish whether Graul used the cash to bribe several players and ensure Leverkusen were not relegated from the German top-flight.
From Champions League final to relegation fight
Bayer's fortune faded after defeat to Real Madrid in 2003
In the 2002/03 season Leverkusen, who had reached the Champions League final the season before, were in the relegation zone with three games left, but won all of them to stay in the Bundesliga.
The three final games against Arminia Bielefeld, who Graul used to play for, 1860 Munich and FC Nuremberg are all set to be investigated for player manipulation.
The penultimate game of that season against 1860 Munich has come under real scrutiny with allegations that Graul gave 500,000 euros to three Munich players to throw the game and kept 80,000 euros for himself.
Leverkusen won the match 3-0 scoring all the goals in the first 48 minutes. 1860 Munich sporting director Detlef Romeiko denied the club's players had been involved in throwing the match. "We are sure our players have not been manipulated and did not receive any money," Romeiko told this week's Spiegel magazine.
Lawyers say cash was used on options for future players
Calmund could face investigators if the case continues
Calmund's lawyer, Stefan Seitz has also denied any wrong-doing on his client's behalf, saying the funds did not go to fix matches. "Of course the prosecutors have to investigate any tips that they receive, no matter how absurd it is. The question is: What was paid for with the 580,000 euros? It was for an option for player purchases, and we plan to prove this to the prosecutors."
German soccer has been dogged by scandal as it gears up to host this summer's World Cup. Earlier this month, four people were arrested as part of an investigation into alleged match-rigging in the second and third divisions.
And last November, referee Robert Hoyzer was handed a jail sentence after he admitted conspiring to fix several games in the second and third division as well as the German Cup, in return for payments from a Croatian betting ring.
If the Leverkusen allegations explode into another full-blown scandal, the implications could be immense. Germany is preparing to welcome the world in June and July -- but will the world want to come if soccer in the World Cup host nation is dirtier than a goalkeeper's knees?