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FC Union Berlin, a soccer club in the second division of the German Bundesliga, has dumped its main sponsor over allegations of ties to the Stasi, the feared secret police in the former East Germany.
FC Union Berlin had been banking on the deal
A lucrative deal between FC Union Berlin and its main sponsor, International Sport Promotion (ISP), has collapsed. The Berlin club, which enjoys cult status in the Bundesliga, announced Monday that the contract, signed earlier this year and worth 10 million euros until 2014, had been canceled.
The official reason given by FC Union Berlin for ending the "strategic partnership" with ISP was "false statements made by the contractual partner at the conclusion of the contract". "Any further cooperation under these circumstances and taking into account the legal and financial consequences for the club, is not possible", the club said in a statement.
The cancelation came on the heels of a report by the German news magazine Der Spiegel which claimed that ISP chairman Juergen Czilinsky was a former a member of the East German Stasi secret service.
Many Union fans were shocked by the Stasi revelations
Czilinsky, 51, held the rank of a Stasi captain, was in charge of counter-espionage and oversaw a group of "at least 26 Stasi operatives in the West," the report says.
Czilinsky didn’t deny that he worked for the Stasi, Spiegel Online reported, citing him as saying that this was more than 25 years ago and that he "couldn’t remember all of the details of his work anymore."
Czilinsky resigned as chairman of ISP earlier on Monday but his damage limitation efforts didn't pay off. Newly-promoted FC Union Berlin were not convinced and canceled the partnership even though it meant the club would lose millions.
Union supporters up in arms
Questions have also surfaced about whether the ISP’s money may partly originate from secret funds, stashed away by former secret police officials during the dying days of communism in the former East Germany.
Older FC Union fans say they can still vividly remember the times when club and supporters faced secret police repression.
ISP is based in the Gulf Emirate of Ajman. The company is said to do business in international mining, the garbage trade and sports licensing, but is largely unknown in the field of German sports sponsorship.
The Berlin soccer club had earmarked the ISP sponsorship funds for repaying the club’s debts to the tune of 15 million euros, which accumulated during the reconstruction of FC Union’s "Old Forestry" stadium in Berlin.
Club president, Dirk Zingler, had a tough choice to make
FC Union Berlin was always at a disadvantage when compared to their cross-city rivals BFC Dynamo. BFC Dynamo was run by the Stasi secret service - which had substantially greater funds and thus better players than the underdogs from East Berlin’s Koepenick working-class district.
The eastern German club always prided itself as an alternative to the Stasi-managed BFC Dynamo. While BFC Dynamo has long vanished into the lower leagues, FC Union’s devoted followers claim it's their loyalty that has seen the club through some tough times.
Author: Uwe Hessler/nk
Editor: Chuck Penfold