By Samantha Sayn-Wittgenstein – Thompson Rivers University JD Candidate
The soccer world cup is one of the biggest events in the world. It takes place every four years, has over 750 million viewers and is broadcasted to more than 200 countries. Germany gained international respect, reinvented patriotism and boosted the economy as hosts of the 2006 world cup. The so called “summer fairy tale” was a glowing success. In recent months, the memories of the fairy tale have turned into a nightmare made up of corruption, bribery and embezzlement allegations.
On October 16th 2015, a major news agency published reports of payments in the sum of 6.7 million Euros (9.5 million CAD) made by the DFB (German Football Association) to FIFA during the bidding for the 2006 World Cup. Shortly thereafter, the Germans admitted to inconsistencies in payments surrounding the bidding. Allegations about bribery center around Franz Beckenbauer, one of Germany’s most popular soccer players and the driving force behind Germany’s bid.
In 2000, FIFA’s executive committee, composed of 24 members from all over the world, was faced with the question, whether Germany or South Africa will be hosting the 2006 World Cup. At that time, there were seven European members, implying that Germany needed to sway at least five non-European members to vote in their favour. In the end, Germany prevailed with 12 votes over South Africa’s eleven. Committee member Charles Dempsey of New Zealand abstained from voting. Following the vote, Dempsey complained about pressure from influential European interest groups, however, vehemently rejected corruption allegations. Subsequently the question remains: What were the 6.7 million Euros for, if not to bribe FIFA officials?
Lawyer Christian Schertz, hired by the DFB, stated the millions were paid by former Adidas CEO Robert Louis-Dreyfus to fund a cultural project during the World Cup. The obvious problem is that this project never happened, which leaves the DFB to explain why the millions have never been repaid to Louis-Dreyfus or even appeared in FIFA or DFB accounts until 2005?
The main evidence presented in the news article is a handwritten note by Wolfgang Niersbach, Vice president in 2005, describing the payment of 6.7 million Euros as well as a borrower’s note signed by Beckenbauer. This was sufficient for the prosecution to announce that a so called “initial suspicion” as well as a “monitoring process” relating to fraud, embezzlement and corruption have been initialized, even though the DFB produced a handwriting expert, who publicly raised doubt about the signature on the document actually being Niersbach’s.
On November 3rd, multiple raids of the homes of DFB officials were carried out, seizing documents and hard drives. Just days later, Niersbach resigned as current president of the DFB and Beckenbauer continuously rejected any claims of payments to former FIFA vice president Jack Warner, who has been banned for life by FIFA on grounds of extensive corruption. Yet, on November 11th, a signed contract surfaced, which promises Warner’s confederation “miscellaneous benefits” and is dated just four days prior to the vote for the 2006 winning bid. Beckenbauer told a newspaper that he had no recollection of this document, but reassured that the benefits were of no monetary value and came in form of support with ticket sales.
If the payments are legally explainable, why did the DFB not open their accounts the day the allegations were made public and did so? Maybe because the burden of proof lies with the prosecutors and the DFB is relying on former officials claims of a clean slate. Or because the legal background of the published story seems rather fragile at this point in time. Most of what has been presented is simply a chain of indications. In an interview the author of the original report, Jens Weinreich, admits to not verifying each and every aspect of his article. Further, some of the mentioned offences fall under the five-year statute of limitations, except the allegation of serious embezzlement according to section 263 of the German Criminal Code, which carries a ten-year statute of limitations. Additionally, various corruption related offences have a 15-year statute of limitations in Switzerland, where FIFA has its headquarters, which potentially would allow for prosecution there. For what it is worth, FIFA’s Ethics Commission vowed to investigate the case as well amongst their own wave of corruption allegations.
Whatever will be revealed during these investigations, the DFB will suffer a significant loss of respect and a massive damage to their image, while the corruption allegations in the world of soccer just do not seem to end.