The 2006 World Cup is remembered fondly as a “summer fairy tale” in host country Germany because of the unusually hot weather, party atmosphere and strong performance of its national team, which finished third in the tournament.
But a decade later, the scales are falling from the eyes of many fans amid revelations that the nation’s soccer federation paid and covered up bribes to win the right to host the games, in what is turning out to be a big corruption scandal.
On Thursday, the Süddeutsche Zeitung newspaper in Munich and two state-run broadcasters – NDR and WDR – reported that members of the DFB German Football Association systematically tried to cover up a €6.7 million ($7.2 million) in payments to African voting members to win the right to host the 2006 games.
The news organizations cited a confidential report prepared by Freshfields Bruckhaus Deringer, a London law firm hired by DFB to investigate the scandal. The report, according to the news organizations, cites information that increasingly suggests German soccer officials engaged in a votes-for-cash deal to win the prestigious tournament.
According to an advance copy of the internal report, German bribes helped the country secure the 2006 games, and may have also helped South Africa win the right to host the games four years later.
“A cover-up at the highest level.”
The report, based on interviews and uncovered DFB documents, was described as a draft by the media organizations and is expected to be released in late February or early March.
Stefan Hans, a former DFB vice president and one of several officials investigated by the law firm, spoke of a “cover-up at the highest level,” according to the report.
It claims that Wolfgang Niersbach, the former president of DFB who was resigned over slush fund allegations, knew about dubious deals between the German organizing committee, of which he was a member, and FIFA, world’s soccer governing body, but didn’t inform the association.
The investigation involves money lent to the DFB by then-Adidas Chief Executive Robert Louis-Dreyfus, who died in 2009. Mr. Niersbach said DFB used the money to pay FIFA to release a grant of €170 million to help Germany stage the 2006 tournament.
FIFA has denied this explanation, and an internal audit has failed to find any trace of the €6.7 million in the DFB’s tax documents.
Freshfields also disclosed DFB documents showing that some of the money, about €250,000, supposedly went to support soccer programs in South Africa. Those and other documents linked to the 2006 games were found in a DFB office.
Franz Beckenbauer, the German soccer legend who led the country’s 2006 World Cup organizing committee, allegedly signed a contract for the €6.7 million payment with the then-FIFA vice chairman Jack Warner.
The contact was drafted four days before the World Cup vote in July 2000, when Germany edged out South Africa by a single vote to win the 2006 games. Mr. Warner was banned from soccer for life last year by FIFA for being involved in corruption.
Mr. Beckenbauer had long refused to disuss the events that led up to the awarding of the 2006 tournament, but broke his silence in November, saying he was unaware of any illegality. In an interview with Süddeutsche Zeitung, he pled ignorance, saying he had “blindly signed” contracts put in front of him.
On Saturday, Süddeutsche Zeitung reported that the U.S. Federal Bureau of Investigation had launched an investigation into the awarding of the 2006 tournament, following probes by Swiss and German prosecutors.
The FBI is concerned with parallels between the 2000 payment by the DFB and another bribe that Mr. Warner is suspected of receiving from organizers of the 2010 World Cup in South Africa.
The DFB is currently without an elected president after Mr. Niersbach, who is still a member of the FIFA executive committee, stepped down in November. Both he and Mr. Beckenbauer have denied wrongdoing.