Fifa ‘disappointed’ by expiry of World Cup trial

Football’s world governing body Fifa has said it is “deeply disappointed” at the end of a Swiss trial over an alleged fraud linked to the 2006 World Cup and involving former German footballer Franz Beckenbauer.

Meanwhile, a new allegation of wrongdoing at the top level of football has emerged, with a report by Swiss newspaper the Tribune de Geneve that Fifa president Gianni Infantino attempted to interfere in a Swiss attorney general investigation into his awarding of a media rights contract during his time at Uefa.

In the trial related to the 2006 World Cup, three German football officials –  Theo Zwanziger, Horst Schmidt and Wolfgang Niersbach – and former Fifa secretary general Urs Linsi were due to appear in court after an investigation into payments alleged to have been made when they and Beckenbauer were on the organising committee of the World Cup. Beckenbauer was also investigated but was not called to trial due to his failing health.

The trial has been called off without a verdict after exceeding a 15-year Swiss statute of limitations.

The investigation and trial related to the alleged use of CHF10m (€9.4mn/$10.2mn) “to repay a debt that was not owed by the DFB (the German football federation)”, according to the Swiss attorney general. BeIN Sports reported that there have been claims the money was used to purchase votes in the bidding to host the 2006 World Cup. Beckenbauer denied this, although accepted there was a mistake in the use of the funds.

A DFB investigation in 2016 also linked the payments to former Asian Football Confederation president Mohamed bin Hammam and the late Adidas chief executive Robert Louis-Dreyfus.

Switzerland’s Federal Criminal Court on Tuesday said the case could not be concluded with a judgement. The Covid-19 pandemic had led to a delay in the trial.

In a strongly-worded statement, Fifa said it was “deeply disappointed” at the outcome. It added: “Fifa fully cooperated with this investigation over the years, responding to many requests made by the Office of the Attorney General and incurring significant costs and management time in doing so. The fact that the case has now ended without a result of any kind is very worrying, not only for football but also for the administration of justice in Switzerland.

“We hope that the truth around the CHF 10 million payment will one day come to light and that those having committed wrongful acts will be duly sanctioned, if not in Switzerland, then maybe somewhere else.”

Fifa said its Ethics Committee would continue to investigate the matter and “will not accept that a CHF 10 million payment is made from Fifa accounts without a proper reason”.

It ended: “Fifa will continue to cooperate with all state law enforcement agencies, including those in Switzerland, in the hope and belief that all those responsible for causing harm to football will finally be held to account for their actions and will not be able to hide forever with their ill-gotten gains.”

The story about Gianni Infantino’s alleged interference in a Swiss AG investigation emerged when the Tribune de Geneve reported that the Fifa president had written about the matter to a childhood friend, Rinaldo Arnold, who is a senior prosecutor. The investigation has been running since 2016 and concerns a media rights contract signed by Infantino with two Argentinian businessman.

In an email cited by the newspaper, Infantino said he is “worried” about the investigation and, “I will try to explain to the OAG that it is in my interests that everything should be cleared up as soon as possible, that it be clearly stated that I have nothing to do with this matter.”

Arnold helped to set up meetings in 2016 and 2017 between Infantino and Attorney General Michael Lauber, which were first reported earlier this month. Fifa has said the meetings were organised so that the organisation could show it was “ready to engage with the Swiss justice system”.

In another twist, German newspaper Sueddeutsche Zeitung (SZ) and Swiss newspaper Luzerner Zeitung have suggested that the meetings were also attended by Cedric Remund, another Swiss prosecutor. Remund is reported to have been working on several football corruption investigations, including the 2006 World Cup trial that expired this week.

Agence France-Presse reported that Fifa said yesterday that the email quoted in this week’s Tribune de Geneve article “was obviously obtained by hacking, which is an illegal and criminal act”. The organisation also pointed out that “the email never said Mr Infantino wanted to ‘clear his name'”.