Tax fraud charges filed against German ex-football officials

Three former top officials of Germany's football federation said Wednesday they have been charged with tax fraud in relation to a scandal over alleged vote-buying to host the 2006 World Cup.

Former German Football Association (DFB) presidents Theo Zwanziger and Wolfgang Niersbach, as well as ex DFB general secretary Horst R. Schmidt, confirmed to AFP's sports subsidiary SID charges filed against them by German prosecutors.

But they contested the accusation.

"It will be shown that the charges against me are completely unfounded," Niersbach told SID.

Separately, Zwanziger said that "at no point did I have any reason to make the DFB richer through tax evasion."

Prosecutors had issued the indictment on May 15, accusing the former officials of having filed a wrongful tax declaration in 2006, the year Germany hosted the international football championship.

The wider scandal first came to light in October 2015, when news magazine Der Spiegel accused Germany of having used a secret slush fund to buy votes in support of its bid to host the 2006 World Cup.

The fund reportedly held 10 million Swiss francs, or 6.7 million euros according to the exchange rate at the time.

The money was allegedly provided by the late Robert Louis-Dreyfus, head of German sportswear giant Adidas, at the request of football legend Franz Beckenbauer, who headed the committee promoting Germany's candidacy.

According to Der Spiegel, the DFB had borrowed the cash to buy the votes for the German bid.

The funds were originally reported to have been transferred for a World Cup opening gala, an event which never took place.

After the scandal erupted, Frankfurt's tax office subsequently found that the DFB did not appropriately account for the 6.7 million euros, and fined it 19.2 million euros.

But the DFB has disputed the finding.

On Wednesday, Zwanziger insisted that the DFB management did not act wrongfully.

"The grant for the FIFA gala was undoubtedly an operating expense, as confirmed by the auditors of the DFB and FIFA, as well as in 2009 by Frankfurt's tax office. There's nothing I should be blamed for," said Zwanziger.

An inquiry into the vote-buying allegations commissioned by the DFB, confirmed in March 2016 that the football federation had borrowed the 10 million Swiss francs from Louis-Dreyfus, but was unable to conclusively say how the funds were used.

According to Bild daily, which first reported on the charges against the three top DFB executives, former FIFA general secretary Urs Linsi has also been charged in the case.

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