Franz Beckenbauer

Franz Beckenbauer
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Court ends 1st Swiss trial in FIFA probe without judgment

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GENEVA — The first trial in Switzerland’s five-year investigation of corruption in soccer ended Tuesday without a judgment, seemingly beaten by the coronavirus pandemic and an expiring statute of limitations.

The decision by the Swiss federal criminal court had become inevitable. The trial of four soccer officials related to the 2006 World Cup opened on March 9 but was then suspended because of limitations on the court during the coronavirus outbreak.

The suspension was extended last week, pushing the prosecution beyond an April 27 deadline to resolve the case.

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Criminal proceedings, including against German soccer great Franz Beckenbauer, were announced more than 3½ years ago but ultimately came to court too late. The court said in a statement it was circumstances and “not procedural errors” which caused the case to be closed.

Two German members of the 2006 World Cup organizing committee, Theo Zwanziger and Horst Schmidt, plus former FIFA secretary general Urs Linsi, were charged with fraud.

A third German official, Wolfgang Niersbach, was charged with being complicit in fraud in an alleged collective attempt to mislead a 2006 World Cup oversight panel in Germany.

Beckenbauer was not indicted for health reasons but was listed as a witness by video link to the court near Switzerland’s border with virus-hit northern Italy.

The case involved a 6.7 million euro ($7.6 million) payment 15 years ago that passed from Beckenbauer via a FIFA account to Qatari soccer powerbroker Mohamed bin Hammam.

Prosecutors acknowledged when announcing the indictment last August the true purpose of the money was unclear.

First trial in Swiss FIFA investigation opens in court Monday

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GENEVA — Five years into a sprawling investigation of soccer corruption, the first courtroom trial in Switzerland is due to begin on Monday in a 2006 World Cup fraud case.

Former FIFA president Sepp Blatter and German soccer great Franz Beckenbauer are listed by Switzerland’s federal criminal court to testify in the trial of four soccer officials implicated in a suspect 6.7 million euros ($7.6 million) payment.

Beckenbauer, as head of the German 2006 organizing committee, is a criminal suspect in the long-running investigation though was not indicted last August for health reasons and will not stand trial.

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Amid fears of the spreading coronavirus, it is likely most of the star witnesses and defendants will not come to court in Bellinzona, which is close to the border with northern Italy.

Blatter is scheduled to testify on Thursday, two days after he turns 84, by video link from Zurich where he lives, his spokesman, Thomas Renggli, said on Friday.

The defendants include three members of the 2006 World Cup organizing committee: Theo Zwanziger and Wolfgang Niersbach – who both served on FIFA’s executive committee after Beckenbauer – and Horst Schmidt.

The fourth is Urs Linsi, who was Blatter’s right-hand man as FIFA secretary general for five years from 2002.

Swiss federal prosecutors allege Linsi, Zwanziger and Schmidt jointly committed fraud and Niersbach was complicit in fraud by misleading the organizing committee’s oversight panel.

All deny wrongdoing in a case that centers on a complex money trail, claimed to be loans and repayments made in 2002 and 2005.

The payments connect Beckenbauer, Germany’s soccer federation, a FIFA bank account in Switzerland, one-time FIFA power broker Mohamed bin Hammam of Qatar, and Robert Louis-Dreyfus, the late former Adidas executive.

Louis-Dreyfus was a part owner of Swiss marketing agency Infront which acquired some World Cup television rights. He died in 2009. Another German soccer great and former Infront executive, Gunter Netzer, is listed to give evidence next Thursday.

The Swiss investigation was hampered by Qatar declining to help.

“The exact purpose of the total payments to Mohamed bin Hammam could not have been determined – also because a corresponding request for mutual legal assistance made by the (attorney general’s office) to the Qatari authorities in September 2016 remained unanswered until today,” Swiss federal prosecutors said last August when publishing indictments.

The case has tarnished the reputation of a World Cup that was a sporting and social success. It became known as Germany’s “Summer Fairytale” for restoring pride in national identity.

It is unclear if a scheduled three-week trial in Switzerland will provide resolution. There is also time pressure because a statute of limitations on the case is reached in late-April.

Though Blatter, FIFA president for 17 years, is only a witness in this case, a criminal proceeding was opened against him in 2015 for separate financial management issues. The allegation removed him from office but he denies wrongdoing and has never been charged.

Swiss prosecutors who have worked on at least 25 criminal proceedings linked to FIFA indicted three men last month, including Linsi’s successor as top administrator, Jerome Valcke.

Qatari television executive Nasser al-Khelaifi, who is also president of French champion Paris Saint-Germain, was charged with inciting Valcke to commit aggravated criminal mismanagement.

A bribery allegation against al-Khelaifi was dropped when FIFA reached a settlement deal with him in January to end a criminal complaint. He had been suspected of bribing Valcke with use of a luxury villa in Italy.

The federal prosecution office has also been through turmoil due to the FIFA probe. A senior prosecutor left in 2018 despite being cleared of alleged misconduct. Attorney general Michael Lauber was removed from the case last year by the Bellinzona court after secret meetings with FIFA president Gianni Infantino were revealed.

Switzerland’s investigation started with FIFA’s criminal complaint in November 2014 about suspected money laundering in the 2018-22 World Cup bidding contests, which were won by Russia and Qatar, respectively.

No charges have been announced directly connected to those World Cup campaigns.

Liverpool ready to give Klopp new contract

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Liverpool are hoping to extend Jurgen Klopp‘s stay at Anfield with a bumper new deal.

Klopp is currently contracted to the club through 2022 at almost $9 million per season, but has been linked to his former rivals Bayern Munich.

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Reds chairman Tom Werner has said he believes Klopp is “committed to Liverpool” and that the club wants him to stay “as long as he likes” following a triumph over Tottenham Hotspur which provided the Anfield set with their sixth UEFA Champions League title.

The 51-year-old Klopp has won 57 percent of his matches in charge of Liverpool, even better than his sterling run at Borussia Dortmund. He led Mainz to Bundesliga promotion before winning two German league crowns and a German Cup.

Bayern president Franz Beckenbauer admitted that he’d like to “one day” see Klopp manage Bayern Munich, who recently won another Bundesliga title and retained manager Niko Kovac.

That’s not happening any time soon, as Klopp attempts to give Liverpool something it hasn’t seen in the Premier League era: A domestic title.

Klopp dismisses Bayern talk from Beckenbauer

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We don’t often talk about Jurgen Klopp‘s future at Liverpool, but it isn’t a huge surprise that the former Borussia Dortmund man’s elimination of Bayern Munich from the UEFA Champions League have eyes opened wide in Germany.

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This is so much so that Franz Beckenbauer, who played 567 times for Bayern, said it would be a “highlight” for the club to hire Klopp, crediting the manager with teaching “Germans how to play quickly.”

In response, Klopp does a pretty majestic job of giving Beckenbauer, Bayern, and Germany their due without opening the door to anything other than Anfield.

“There is no bigger legend in Germany than Franz Beckenbauer,” said Klopp. “It feels great he speaks positively about me. It is just like the king with his sword calling a man ‘sir’.”

But that’s where the flirtation ends.

From SkySports.com:

“So far, it has worked out, and hopefully it will last a lot longer. That would be cool. We are very happy about the situation and very positive about the future. We are fine with what we’ve done so far, but now we have to finish the season the best way possible.

“It is a big opportunity. We have improved a lot, but people judge it only on winning titles. We know that, but we can change it in the future.”

Klopp and Liverpool face Fulham on Sunday at Craven Cottage, but don’t sleep on the idea of his heading to Bayern at some point. While the Reds recently posted perhaps their most impressive win in his tenure at Anfield, pressure could increase if he fails to hold onto the side’s glorious chance to win the Premier League and finishes short of the UCL title again.

Swiss prosecutors confirm about 25 FIFA investigations

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ST. PETERSBURG, Russia (AP) About 25 separate investigations of suspected corruption linked to FIFA and World Cup bidding are being led by federal prosecutors in Switzerland, the country’s office for the attorney general said Friday.

The office of Michael Lauber confirmed the scale of “football-related cases” after securing a first conviction since its FIFA probes began in 2014.

Cases were not specified, but criminal proceedings are open against former FIFA officials Sepp Blatter and Jerome Valcke, and some 2006 World Cup organizers, including Franz Beckenbauer.

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Swiss and American prosecutors worked together on a guilty plea made in a Brooklyn federal courthouse on Thursday by Jorge Arzuaga, a former employee of Swiss private banks from Argentina.

Arzuaga admitted to working with former FIFA finance chairman Julio Grondona and others in a money-laundering conspiracy linked to bribes. Grondona was senior vice president at FIFA when he died in 2014.

Arzuaga forfeited $650,000 in “unlawfully obtained” bonuses to the Swiss treasury, the federal prosecution office said.

The banker, who worked in Zurich for Credit Suisse and Julius Baer, is due to be sentenced on Jan. 4.

Lauber was invited by FIFA in November 2014 to begin investigating suspected wrongdoing in the 2018 and 2022 World Cup bidding contests which were won by Russia and Qatar, respectively.

“To date, 178 reports of suspected money-laundering transactions have been received in connection with the football investigations,” Lauber’s office said.

In May 2015, the scope of Swiss and American cooperation to prosecute corruption linked to FIFA was revealed when seven officials, including two FIFA vice presidents, were arrested in early morning hotel raids in Zurich. FIFA was also raided for evidence that day.

A further round of arrests, indictments and guilty pleas to U.S. courts were revealed in December 2015. More than 40 soccer and marketing officials have been indicted or made guilty pleas in the American case.

In Switzerland, authorities are now analyzing “seized documents containing some 19 terabytes of data,” Lauber’s office said Friday.