Swiss prosecutors have confirmed that football legend Franz Beckenbauer is among those under criminal investigation over allegations related to the 2006 World Cup in Germany. It's the latest twist in a months-old story.
A statement released by the Office of the Attorney General of Switzerland on Thursday said it had opened investigative proceedings against four members of the executive board of the organizing committee for the 2006 World Cup, which was hosted by Germany.
It said that, in cooperation with the authorities in Austria and Germany, "searches of premises or searches on a cooperative basis for the collection of evidence were carried out in eight separate locations at the same time today. In addition, various suspects were questioned by or on behalf of the Office of the Attorney General of Switzerland."
The statement named the suspects as Franz Beckenbauer, who was the president of the organizing committee, as well as Wolfgang Niersbach, Theo Zwanziger and Horst R. Schmidt, each of whom were also members of the committee's executive board. It said the proceedings related to allegations of fraud, criminal mismanagement, money laundering, and misappropriation.
The Attorney General 's office said the suspects were thought to have misled other members of the executive board over a payment of 6.7 million euros ($7.5 million) ostenibly to be used to fund a gala event related to the 2006 World Cup. It said it had jurisdiction as some of the alleged criminal acts had been carried out in Switzerland.
The statement also noted that it had opened the proceedings last November, weeks after the German newsmagazine "Spiegel" first published a report containing allegations of corruption related to Germany's bid to host the 2006 World Cup.
Horst R. Schmidt, Theo Zwanziger, Franz Beckenbauer and Wolfgang Niersbach have all been named as suspects
The Swiss prosecutors issued Thursday's statement just hours after "Spiegel" reported that the 70-year-old Beckenbauer was under investigation.
Beckenbauer, a former star player for Bayern Munich, Germany, and the New York Cosmos headed the committee, which in 2000 won the right for Germany to host the 2006 tournament. He later became president of the organizing committee.
Beckenbauer, who won the World Cup both as a player and coach, has not yet commented on the news of the Swiss investigation, but has previously denied any wrongdoing.
However, his lawyers, Werner Leitner and Michael Nesselhauf, issued a statement later on Thursday in which they confirmed that Beckenbauer's house in Salzburg, Austria, was among the premises that had been searched and that he was cooperating with "all authorities involved."
Niersbach, who was forced to resign as president of the German football association (DFB) over the affair last October, has also previously denied any wrongdoing. Regarding the Swiss investigation, Niersbach told the SID news agency that he had no further knowledge but would "attempt to get some clarity through my lawyer."
Zwanziger, who was Niersbach's predecessor as DFB president told SID that he knew nothing about the allegations and it all had nothing to do with him. Schmidt made a similar statement.