ZURICH — Soccer great Franz Beckenbauer is a criminal suspect in a World Cup fraud case.
Beckenbauer’s home in Austria was raided for evidence on Thursday by Swiss federal prosecutors investigating links to FIFA. Switzerland’s attorney general’s office said they had opened criminal proceedings against Beckenbauer and three other German members of the 2006 World Cup organizing committee.
The four are suspected of fraud, money laundering, criminal mismanagement and misappropriation relating to a payment of $7.3 million linked to FIFA prior to the tournament.
“Searches of premises or searches on a cooperative basis for the collection of evidence were carried out in eight separate locations at the same time today,” the Swiss federal prosecution office said in a statement. “In addition, various suspects were questioned by or on behalf of the Office of the Attorney General of Switzerland.”
Three of the suspects are past or current members of the FIFA executive committee: Beckenbauer, Theo Zwanziger and Wolfgang Niersbach.
Niersbach, whose term expires in 2019, was banned for one year by the FIFA ethics committee in July for not reporting suspected wrongdoing.
The fourth suspect is Horst Schmidt, vice president of the 2006 organizing committee.
Beckenbauer, Zwanziger and Schmidt have also been under investigation for suspected bribery by the FIFA ethics committee for several months.
The Swiss criminal case, formally opened last November but confirmed only on Thursday, has caused turmoil at the soccer federation of World Cup champion Germany and tarnished the reputation of a World Cup that was a popular success in the host country.
It also threatens to wreck the reputation of the 70-year-old Beckenbauer, arguably the nation’s greatest ever player who captained and coached West Germany to World Cup titles, then organized the tournament.
“It is suspected that the suspects willfully misled their fellow members of the executive board of the organizing committee for the 2006 World Cup,” the Swiss prosecution office said. “This was presumably done by the use of false pretenses or concealment of the truth, thus inducing the other committee members to act in a manner that caused DFB a financial loss.”
Beckenbauer headed his country’s bid to win the hosting rights in 2000 in a tight vote ahead of a South Africa bid backed by Nelson Mandela. He then chaired the organizing committee.
In February, the German soccer federation published a 361-page inquiry report that tried to explain a complex trail about payments of 6.7 million euros ($7.3 million) and 10 million Swiss francs ($10 million).
The money linked Beckenbauer, then-FIFA president Sepp Blatter, FIFA power broker Mohamed bin Hammam and Robert Louis-Dreyfus, the late former Adidas executive and former part owner of Swiss marketing agency Infront.
That report, by law firm Freshfields, suggested a deeper involvement of Beckenbauer, who later joined the FIFA executive committee from 2007-11, than previously suspected.
Investigations by German prosecutors and tax officials of suspected tax evasion by the German soccer federation led Niersbach and Helmut Sandrock to resign in recent months as its president and general secretary, respectively.
The Swiss case announced Thursday did not mention Stefan Hans, chief financial officer for the 2006 organizing committee, who is also suspected in the FIFA ethics case.
Swiss federal prosecutors are investigating the 2006 World Cup allegations as part of a wider probe of FIFA’s business. It has already put Blatter under criminal investigation for two separate acts of suspected financial mismanagement.
Swiss prosecutors are also working with the U.S. Department of Justice in its extensive investigation of corruption in world soccer.
The American case has indicted more than 40 individuals and marketing agencies, including several former FIFA vice presidents, and has targeted $10 million in supposed bribes paid by South Africa’s successful bid to host the 2010 World Cup.