Federal prosecutors in Switzerland have opened a probe of the 2006 World Cup committee in their ongoing investigation of corruption in FIFA.
ZURICH (AP) — Soccer great Franz Beckenbauer is a criminal suspect in a World Cup fraud case.
Beckenbauer's home in Austria was raided for evidence on Thursday on behalf of Swiss federal prosecutors investigating corruption linked to FIFA. Switzerland's attorney general's office said they had opened criminal proceedings against Beckenbauer and three other German members of the 2006 World Cup organizing committee.
The four are suspected of fraud, money laundering, criminal mismanagement and misappropriation relating to a payment of 6.7 million euros ($7.3 million) to FIFA in 2005.
"Searches of premises or searches on a cooperative basis for the collection of evidence were carried out in eight separate locations (in Austria and Germany) at the same time today," the Swiss federal prosecution office said in a statement. "In addition, various suspects were questioned by or on behalf of the Office of the Attorney General of Switzerland."
Beckenbauer's lawyers said he is cooperating with "all authorities involved."
"Franz Beckenbauer has supported the Swiss federal prosecutors' investigations since he has known about them, and cooperated constructively in today's search," lawyers Werner Leitner and Michael Nesselhauf said in a statement reported by German news agency dpa.
Three of the suspects are past or current members of FIFA' ruling committee: Beckenbauer, Theo Zwanziger and Wolfgang Niersbach.
Niersbach, whose term expires in 2019, was banned for one year by the FIFA ethics committee in July for not reporting suspected wrongdoing.
The fourth criminal suspect is Horst Schmidt, vice president of the 2006 organizing committee.
Beckenbauer, Zwanziger and Schmidt have also been under investigation for suspected bribery by the FIFA ethics committee for several months.
The Swiss criminal case, formally opened last November but confirmed only on Thursday, has caused turmoil at the soccer federation of world champion Germany and tarnished the reputation of a World Cup that was a popular success. In Germany, the 2006 tournament has become known as its "Summer Fairytale."
It also threatens to wreck the reputation of the 70-year-old Beckenbauer, arguably the nation's greatest ever player. The former Bayern Munich and New York Cosmos defender captained and coached West Germany to World Cup titles, then organized the tournament.
"It is suspected that the suspects willfully misled their fellow members of the executive board of the organizing committee for the 2006 World Cup," the Swiss prosecution office said. "This was presumably done by the use of false pretenses or concealment of the truth, thus inducing the other committee members to act in a manner that caused (the German soccer federation) a financial loss."
Beckenbauer headed his country's bid to win the hosting rights in 2000 in a vote of the FIFA executive committee. Germany won 12-11 in a final-round vote against a South Africa bid backed by Nelson Mandela. Beckenbauer then chaired the organizing committee.
In February, the German soccer federation published a 361-page inquiry report that tried to explain a complex trail about payments of 6.7 million euros ($7.3 million) and 10 million Swiss francs ($10 million) being investigated by German and Swiss authorities.
The money linked Beckenbauer, then-FIFA president Sepp Blatter, one-time 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 inquiry, by law firm Freshfields, suggested a deeper involvement than previously suspected of Beckenbauer, who later joined the FIFA executive committee from 2007-11.
It said the payment by the German federation to FIFA on April 27, 2005, was "falsely declared" by the World Cup organizing committee for an opening gala, but was intended for Louis-Dreyfus. That same day, FIFA transferred the money to a Swiss account set up by Louis-Dreyfus.
The inquiry report said Blatter was aware of the payment, though the former FIFA president has denied the claim.
"Swiss jurisdiction in the proceedings is based on the fact that certain of the alleged criminal acts were carried out in Switzerland, which is also the suspected place of unlawful enrichment," the federal prosecution office said.
In a separate investigation, German prosecutors and tax officials suspect tax evasion by the national soccer federation. That case led Niersbach and Helmut Sandrock to resign in recent months as the federation's president and general secretary, respectively.
The Swiss case announced Thursday did not mention Stefan Hans, chief financial officer for the 2006 organizing committee, who is also suspected in the FIFA ethics case.
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.
Swiss prosecutors are also working with the U.S. Department of Justice in its extensive investigation of corruption in world soccer.
The American case has indicted more than 40 individuals and marketing agencies, including several former FIFA vice presidents, and has targeted $10 million in supposed bribes paid by South Africa's successful bid to host the 2010 World Cup.
Despite his legal issues, Niersbach is still a member of the executive committees of FIFA and European soccer body UEFA, after being elected last year by European member federations.
UEFA said Thursday that Niersbach is not being replaced while he is not charged with any criminal offense and is appealing his FIFA ethics ban.