FIFA World Cup tax evasion scandal sees German bosses charged

Three German organisers of the 2006 World Cup have been charged with tax evasion linked to a payment to FIFA.

German news agency DPA reported that Theo Zwanziger, Wolfgang Niersbach and Horst R. Schmidt confirmed on Wednesday they are indicted by Frankfurt prosecutors in a long-running investigation.

They are accused of falsifying tax returns on behalf of the Germany soccer federation [DFB] in 2006.

The DFB has already paid €19.2 million ($22.4m) in back taxes. All three deny the charges, which were first reported by German daily Bild.

The allegations are also being investigated by Swiss federal prosecutors and FIFA's ethics committee.

They have targeted German soccer great Franz Beckenbauer, who led the 2006 tournament organizing committee.

Beckenbauer, Zwanziger and Niersbach were members of FIFA's executive committee in turn from 2007 through 2016.

In 2016, the DFB published an inquiry report into a complex payments trail including €6.7m ($7.8m) to FIFA in April 2005.

Zwanziger and the DFB claimed the money was for a World Cup opening gala and therefore tax-deductible.

However, the payment went through FIFA and ended in a Swiss account belonging to former Adidas chief Robert Louis-Dreyfus, who died in 2009.

The inquiry report did not rule out, but could not prove, that votes were bought when Germany beat a Nelson Mandela-supported South Africa bid for the hosting rights in a 12-11 vote of FIFA executive committee members in 2000.

Swiss prosecutors said in 2016 they had opened a criminal proceeding against the four German officials the previous year, on suspicion of fraud, money laundering, criminal mismanagement and misappropriation.

That case spun off from a wider Swiss investigation of suspected corruption linked to FIFA and World Cup hosting votes that is ongoing.

Niersbach lost his seat on FIFA's ruling committee when he was banned for one year for failing to disclose possible unethical conduct.

Meanwhile, Zwanziger, DFB president from late 2006 through to March 2012 and the association's treasurer from 2003 to 2006, has said investigators had failed to provide any sustainable evidence.

He told Kicker the "indictment was doing things for the sake of things and to distract from [the investigators] own wrongdoing. It's happening to pass on the 'hot potato' investigation proceedings to the court as soon as possible."

The 72-year-old claimed investigators failed to reveal the background of the €6.7m payment. He also denied that was actively involved in any tax evasion.

"At no time, I had any inducement to make the rich DFB richer by evading taxes," he told the paper.

The various investigations have tarnished the reputation of the 2006 World Cup that was a popular success in the host nation, which called it the "Summer Fairytale."

ESPN FC Germany correspondent Stephan Uersfeld contributed to this story.