World Cup Scandal Germany Appears to Have Bought Right to Host 2006 Tournament

Information obtained by SPIEGEL suggests the German bidding committee created a slush fund in its effort to land the rights to host the 2006 World Cup. Senior officials, including football hero Franz Beckenbauer, are believed to have known about fund.
Wolfgang Niersbach and Franz Beckenbauer led Germany's effort to land the 2006 World Cup.

Wolfgang Niersbach and Franz Beckenbauer led Germany's effort to land the 2006 World Cup.

Foto: Oliver Hurst/ dpa

In what could turn out to be the greatest crisis in German football since the Bundesliga bribery scandal of the 1970s, SPIEGEL has learned that the decision to award the 2006 World Cup to Germany was likely bought in the form of bribes. The German bidding committee set up a slush fund that was filled secretly by then-Adidas CEO Robert Louis-Dreyfus to the tune of 10.3 million Swiss francs, which at the time was worth 13 million deutsche marks.

It appears that both Franz Beckenbauer, the German football hero who headed the bidding committee, and Wolfgang Niersbach, the current head of the German Football Federation (DFB), and other high-ranking football officials were aware of the fund by 2005 at the latest.

Acting in a private capacity, Louis-Dreyfus -- who was, at the time, chairman of Adidas, the sporting apparel and supplies company that equips the German national team -- lent the money to the German bidding committee prior to the decision to award the World Cup to Germany on July 6, 2000. The loan never appeared in the bidding committee's budget or later, once the tournament had been awarded to Germany, in that of the Organizing Committee (OK).

A year and a half prior to the World Cup, Louis-Dreyfus called in the loan, which by then had a value of €6.7 million. Officials at OK, of which Beckenbauer had become president and Niersbach vice president, began looking for a way in 2005 to pay back the illicit funds in an inconspicuous manner.

Internal documents show that a cover was created with the help of global football organizing body FIFA to facilitate the payment. Using the cover, the Germans made a €6.7 million contribution for a gala FIFA Opening Ceremony that had been planned at Berlin's Olympic Stadium but was later cancelled. The money had been paid into a FIFA bank account in Geneva. From there, FIFA allegedly promptly transferred the money to a Zurich account belonging to Louis-Dreyfus.

It appears that the loan was used to secure the four votes belonging to Asian representatives on the 24-person FIFA Executive Committee. The four Asians joined European representatives on the executive committee in casting their ballots for the tournament to be awarded to Germany in the July 2000 vote. After Charles Dempsey of New Zeeland unexpectedly abstained from casting his vote, Germany prevailed and landed the right to host the World Cup in a 12:11 vote.

Beckenbauer and Niersbach did not provide a response when contacted by SPIEGEL. On Thursday, DFB said that, "for reasons of timing," it could not provide a statement within 24 hours. But then, on Friday morning, it sent a press release in which officials admitted that the World Cup 2006 Organizing Committee made a payment in April 2005 of around €6.7 million to FIFA. DFB officials stated it is possible that the payment was not used for the stated purpose (the FIFA cultural program). But officials claim the payment had no connection to the awarding of the World Cup.

Of the three Asian representatives who voted for Germany in the Executive Committee in 2000 who are still living, two did not answer requests for comment from SPIEGEL. A third, Chung Song Joon of South Korea, said only that the questions were unworthy of a response. Former Adidas head Louis-Dreyfus passed away in 2009.

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