Qatar involved in new fraud case against former FIFA officials

Swiss prosecutors file fraud charges against former FIFA officials over various secret payments made through Swiss law firm to a company owned by Qatari national Mohammed bin Hammam.

LONDON - Swiss federal prosecutors have filed fraud charges against three former senior German soccer officials and one Swiss over a suspect payment to a company belonging to a Qatari national, linked to the 2006 World Cup hosted by Germany, the Swiss Attorney General's office said on Tuesday.

The indictment alleges former German Football Association (DFB) presidents Theo Zwanziger and Wolfgang Niersbach, senior DFB official Horst Schmidt and former Swiss FIFA official Urs Linsi misled members of a DFB body about the true purpose of a payment of about 6.7 million euros ($7.5 million), a statement said.

The four men have denied any wrongdoing.

Proceedings against German soccer great Franz Beckenbauer, who is also under investigation in the case, are continuing separately because his health problems made it impossible to question him, the Attorney General's Office (OAG) said.

The criminal investigation into Beckenbauer, who is a World Cup-winning player and former coach for Germany, was opened in 2015 over his role as head of the 2006 World Cup organising committee.

Schmidt, Zwanziger and Linsi are accused of fraud and Niersbach of being complicit in fraud in the charges. The OAG said it dropped last month its investigation of money-laundering allegations in the case.

Various payments

"The investigations have revealed that in summer 2002 Franz Beckenbauer accepted a loan of 10 million Swiss francs in his own name and for his own account from Robert Louis-Dreyfus. This sum was used to fund various payments made via a Swiss law firm to a Qatari company belonging to Mohammed Bin Hammam," the OAG said.

At the time, Bin Hammam was a member of the FIFA Executive Committee and the FIFA Finance Committee.

"The exact purpose of the total payments of 10 million Swiss francs to Mohammed Bin Hammam could not be determined - also because a corresponding request for mutual legal assistance made by the OAG to the Qatari authorities in September 2016 remained unanswered until today," it added.

The payment in question triggered several investigations and led to Niersbach's resignation over allegations it was used as a slush fund to buy votes in favour of Germany's bid to host the 2006 tournament.

Zwanziger headed the DFB from 2006 to 2012 and was succeeded by Niersbach until his resignation in the fallout from the scandal in 2015.

The DFB said it would seek damages should its reputation be tarnished by the case and the actions of those indicted.

"Should the DFB suffer damages because of the wrong behaviour of the accused then it is legally obliged to consider and proceed with any claim for compensation," the DFB said in a statement.

A DFB-commissioned investigation in 2016 said the sum was the return of a loan via FIFA from former Adidas chief Louis-Dreyfus.

A German court in October ruled there was no evidence to bring soccer officials to trial for suspected tax evasion over the payment.

Qatari fingerprints

Qatar's participation in the culture of graft at FIFA is now widely known and has led to multiple investigations into bribery and corruption over its winning bid to host the 2022 World Cup. French authorities are also investigating FIFA's granting of hosting duties to Qatar amid suspicions Doha paid tens of millions of dollars in bribes to FIFA officials.

Leaked documents obtained by the Sunday Times revealed that Doha paid a total of $880 million to FIFA in its bid to host the tournament.

As part of that overall payment, Qatar secretly offered FIFA a payment of $400 million a mere 21 days before it controversially decided that the 2022 World Cup would go to Doha.

In June, French authorities detained Michel Platini, the former president of UEFA who was suspended from any football activity, as part of that investigation into corruption.

A main focus of the investigation was reported to be a lunch Platini had with former French president Nicholas Sarkozy and Tamim al-Thani, the current Emir of Qatar, on 23 November 2010, just before the Fifa vote for the 2018 and 2022 World Cup hosts.

In 2013, Platini said of that meeting that he, “knew Sarkozy wanted the people from Qatar to buy PSG. I understood that Sarkozy supported the candidature of Qatar.“

At the time, Sarkozy was allegedly seeking stronger economic links with Qatar and hoped that Qatari money could be used to save the team he supports from financial decline.

That team was Paris Saint Germain, now owned by Qatari businessman Nasser Al-Khelaifi, who is the chairman of one of the country’s sovereign wealth funds, Qatar Sports Investments.

Sarkozy also allegedly received kickbacks from deals with Qatar in the energy sector in exchange for France's vote for Qatar as 2022 host.