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German ex-FA bosses on trial over World Cup tax evasion

Three German ex-top football officials went on trial on Monday in a 13.7-million-euro ($14.8 million) tax evasion case linked to the 2006 World Cup. 

Former German Football Association (DFB) presidents Wolfgang Niersbach and Theo Zwanziger, as well as former general secretary Horst Schmidt, are accused of submitting false tax returns in connection with the tournament.

Germany’s successful hosting of the 2006 World Cup, often referred to as “Das Sommermaerchen” or Summer Fairytale, subsequently became a nightmare for organisers after accusations emerged years later of financial wrongdoing.

In the latest case, being heard at the Frankfurt Regional Court, prosecutors allege the three men evaded paying 13.7 million euros in a variety of different taxes in 2006.

According to the indictment, a major part of the case revolves around the organising committee receiving around 6.7 million euros in 2005, which the DFB claimed in its annual accounts as operating expenses for a World Cup gala.

But the gala never happened, with the money instead used for other purposes, meaning the payment should not have been recognised as tax deductible, it said.

Instead, prosecutors allege the money was used to repay a loan that football legend Franz Beckenbauer — who headed the organising committee and died last month — had taken out privately from the late Robert Louis-Dreyfus, previously head of sportswear giant Adidas.

“The defendants were aware and conscious of the incorrect tax declarations,” according to the indictment.

The case has a long history. The Frankfurt Regional Court dropped it twice in the past but these decisions were challenged by prosecutors and a higher court ordered that it be re-opened.

Ex-FIFA secretary general Urs Linsi, a Swiss national, was also originally charged with aiding and abetting tax evasion but proceedings against him were dropped in exchange for payment of a fine, and he will be called as a witness by prosecutors.

On Monday, lawyers for Niersbach, Zwanziger and Schmidt criticised the reopening of proceedings.

One of them called for the trial to be halted, pointing to the fact that proceedings in Switzerland for fraud had been discontinued in 2021 due to the statute of limitations.

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