FIFA judges want 2-year ban for Niersbach in 2006 bid case

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Posted: May 20, 2016 10:01 AM
FIFA judges want 2-year ban for Niersbach in 2006 bid case

GENEVA (AP) — Just 10 days after the rebranded FIFA Council met for the first time, one of its members faces being banned from soccer in fallout from World Cup corruption allegations.

FIFA ethics prosecutors on Friday asked for a two-year ban for FIFA Council member Wolfgang Niersbach in an investigation of Germany's 2006 World Cup bid, a probe that threatens to end Franz Beckenbauer's career in soccer.

The judging chamber of the FIFA ethics committee said it received the final investigation file against Niersbach and opened formal proceedings.

"The investigatory chamber recommends a sanction of a two-year ban from all football-related activity and a fine of 30,000 Swiss francs ($30,300)," the judging chamber said.

An investigation was opened in March against six German officials including Niersbach, who was elected to the FIFA and UEFA executive committees last year.

Niersbach is being investigated for "possible failure to report" unethical conduct by others and conflicts of interest.

"It is also a question of honor and protecting my personal rights to oppose this motion with all possible means of redress," Niersbach said in a statement.

He said his case involved "events connected to the 2006 World Cup that I learned about gradually in the summer of 2015."

Beckenbauer, one of soccer's greatest players, and three other 2006 World Cup officials are being investigated for links to possible bribery by the FIFA ethics committee. The probe involves irregular seven-figure payments and contracts during the bidding process and later organization of the World Cup.

No details of the other five ongoing FIFA ethics cases were given Friday.

Swiss federal prosecutors, and German criminal and tax investigators, also have ongoing criminal cases into the 2006 World Cup — a hugely successful tournament at the time which the host nation called its "Summer Fairytale."

Niersbach resigned as president of the German soccer federation last year but retained his elected FIFA and UEFA positions, which combine to pay him about $500,000 in total each year.

He will not be barred from meetings and matches while the ethics case is ongoing.

"The investigatory chamber has closely examined the circumstances and has decided against a provisional suspension." the FIFA ethics committee said in a statement.

On Wednesday, Niersbach attended a UEFA executive committee meeting in Basel, Switzerland, to set a Sept. 14 date for the presidential election to replace Michel Platini, who is serving a four-year ban.

Niersbach was seen last year as a potential UEFA president until the World Cup allegations flared again.

Last week, Niersbach was in Mexico City for the first meeting of the FIFA Council, which replaced the tainted FIFA executive committee name as part of reforms designed to show the world soccer body is changing its culture.

Swiss prosecutors are investigating the 2006 World Cup allegations as part of a wider probe of FIFA's business practices.

The main FIFA ethics case focuses on Beckenbauer, who headed the World Cup organizing team and joined the FIFA executive committee in 2007; Theo Zwanziger, who replaced Beckenbauer at FIFA in 2011; Horst Schmidt, vice president of the World Cup organizing panel; and Stefan Hans, chief financial officer for the organizers.

Niersbach and 2006 tournament director Helmut Sandrock face the lesser charges of not reporting suspected wrongdoing. Sandrock resigned in February as secretary general of the German soccer federation.

In February, an inquiry report commissioned by the federation tried to explain a complex trail about payments of 6.7 million euros ($7.3 million) and 10 million Swiss francs ($10 million) that linked Beckenbauer, then-FIFA president Sepp Blatter, FIFA powerbroker Mohamed bin Hammam of Qatar and Robert Louis-Dreyfus, the late former Adidas executive and part owner of Swiss marketing agency Infront.

The report, by law firm Freshfields, pointed to a deeper involvement than suspected of Beckenbauer — the only man to captain and coach World Cup-winning teams and who then organized a successful tournament.

The report did not rule out, but could not prove, that votes were bought when Germany beat a Nelson Mandela-supported South Africa bid in a 12-11 vote of FIFA executive committee members in 2000.

Beckenbauer, the former Bayern Munich and New York Cosmos great, has publicly denied wrongdoing or that hosting votes were bought.