FRANKFURT, Germany (AP) — The president of the German soccer federation and two former high-ranking officials are the targets of a tax evasion probe over a payment to FIFA in connection with the 2006 World Cup, authorities said Tuesday.
Police officers and tax inspectors searched the premises of the federation and three private homes, seizing written and electronic documents, Frankfurt prosecutor Nadja Niesen said.
Niesen said the prosecutors' office was investigating "tax evasion in a particularly serious case" — a charge that could bring between six months and 10 years in prison.
"The raids are linked to the awarding of the football World Cup 2006 and the transfer of 6.7 million euros to FIFA," Niesen told The Associated Press.
Niesen did not release the names of the people whose homes were being searched. But because the statement gave their functions, it was clear that the raids targeted federation president Wolfgang Niersbach, his predecessor, Theo Zwanziger, and former general secretary Horst R. Schmidt. All three were high-ranking officials on the World Cup organizing committee.
The federation later said in a statement that documents were seized during the raid and that it was fully cooperating with the investigation. The federation itself was not under investigation, it said.
Niesen told reporters that Niersbach and the two former officials were also cooperating with authorities, who would need time to evaluate the documents seized during the raids.
German daily Bild published photos it said showed the raid, with plainclothes agents entering the Frankfurt headquarters of the federation and walking to the home of Niersbach outside Frankfurt.
A statement by the prosecutors' office said more than 50 officers and tax inspectors took part in the operation.
Zwanziger has accused the federation of using a slush fund to buy votes ahead of Germany's successful bid to stage the 2006 World Cup.
As treasurer of the federation at the time, Zwanziger was the financial chief of the organizing committee. He has accused Niersbach of lying.
Niersbach has denied any wrongdoing, saying the 6.7 million euros (about $6 million) were paid to FIFA in 2002 to obtain a large grant for the organizing committee. But the transaction has not been fully explained and the federation has launched its own probe into the affair.
According to Niersbach, the deal was agreed at a private meeting between suspended FIFA President Sepp Blatter and Franz Beckenbauer, the president of the organizing committee. It was originally paid to FIFA's financial commission by French businessman Robert Louis-Dreyfus, who was boss of the Adidas sporting goods company at the time, according to Niersbach. Dreyfus died in 2009.
Blatter and FIFA have denied any knowledge of the payment.
Zwanziger and Schmidt signed off on the transaction when the federation paid back the sum to FIFA, to be forwarded to Dreyfus.
Niersbach said two weeks ago that the organizing committee paid the money in order to get a grant of 230 million euros ($252 million). The payment has come under close scrutiny in Germany and its murky circumstances still have not been explained.
The Frankfurt prosecutors say the sum was falsely declared, so that the federation paid much lower taxes.
Beckenbauer said last week that it was his mistake to make the payment to FIFA.
"In order to obtain a financial grant from FIFA, a proposal was accepted from FIFA's financial commission that in hindsight should have been rejected by those involved," Beckenbauer said.
Monday's statement from the prosecutors made no mention of Beckenbauer, who lives in Austria.
The statement said that possible charges of fraud and bribery were dropped because of the statute of limitations.