Swiss prosecutors step up 2006 World Cup probe in FIFA case


ZURICH (AP) Swiss federal prosecutors are conducting an “ongoing operation” in an investigation of the 2006 World Cup organizing committee as part of a wider probe of corruption linked to FIFA.

The office of Swiss attorney general Michael Lauber told The Associated Press that details of the operation should be confirmed later Thursday.

German news magazine Der Speigel reported that Swiss authorities are pursuing a case against soccer great Franz Beckenbauer for suspected money laundering and breach of trust.

German organizers of the 2006 World Cup – led by Beckenbauer, a World Cup-winning player and coach – have been under investigation by Swiss prosecutors and the FIFA ethics committee for several months over alleged bribery and irregular payments of several million dollars linked to FIFA.

Beckenbauer headed his country’s bid to win the hosting rights in 2000 in a tight vote ahead of a South Africa bid backed by Nelson Mandela. He then chaired the organizing committee.

The 70-year-old Beckenbauer, a former Bayern Munich and New York Cosmos great, has denied wrongdoing.

In February, the German soccer federation published a 361-page inquiry that tried to explain a complex trail about payments of 6.7 million euros ($7.3 million) and 10 million Swiss francs ($10 million).

The money linked Beckenbauer, then-FIFA president Sepp Blatter, FIFA power broker Mohamed bin Hammam and Robert Louis-Dreyfus, the late former Adidas executive and former part owner of Swiss marketing agency Infront.

That report, by law firm Freshfields, suggested a deeper involvement of Beckenbauer, who later joined the FIFA executive committee from 2007-11, than previously suspected.

Investigations by German prosecutors and tax officials of suspected tax evasion by the German soccer federation led Wolfgang Niersbach and Helmut Sandrock to resign in recent months as its president and general secretary, respectively. Niersbach was later banned for one year by the FIFA ethics committee for failing to disclose suspected corruption. He has said he will appeal against the ban.

Beckenbauer and three other senior 2006 World Cup officials are under investigation for suspected bribery by FIFA ethics prosecutors, who opened formal cases in March.

The other three German officials are: Theo Zwanziger, who replaced Beckenbauer on the FIFA executive committee in 2011; Horst Schmidt, vice president of the World Cup organizing panel; and Stefan Hans, chief financial officer for the organizers.

Swiss federal prosecutors are investigating the 2006 World Cup allegations as part of a wider probe of FIFA’s business. It has already put Blatter under criminal investigation for two separate acts of suspected financial mismanagement.