Soccer-Former German FA bosses go on trial over 2006 World Cup payment

Former DFB German soccer federation presidents Theo Zwanziger and Wolfgang Niersbach face a trial for tax fraud amounting to 13.7 million euros for the benefit of the DFB in connection with the 2006 World Cup hosted by Germany, in Frankfurt, Germany, March 4, 2024. REUTERS/Kai Pfaffenbach/Pool

FRANKFURT, Germany (Reuters) - Former German Football Association (DFB) presidents Theo Zwanziger and Wolfgang Niersbach went on trial along with a former secretary general on Monday, accused of tax evasion in connection with the 2006 World Cup hosted by Germany.

At the heart of this case that has dragged on through the legal system for years and has also included several other separate investigations, including a DFB-commissioned one, is a payment of 6.7 million euros ($7.27 million) linked to a 2006 World Cup-related event that never took place.

Niersbach, who resigned as DFB president in 2015 as a result of the affair, his predecessor Zwanziger and former secretary general Horst Schmidt are accused of arranging for incorrect tax returns submitted for 2006 to enable the DFB to avoid paying millions of taxes.

Niersbach, Zwanziger and Schmidt deny any wrongdoing.

The tax return included a 6.7 million euro payment from the DFB to world soccer's governing body FIFA for the 2006 event, although the funds were in fact used for another purpose and should not have been offset against tax, prosecutors have said.

"I always wished for the truth to be on the table. That goes only through an open process," Zwanziger told reporters as he arrived in court.

"As I am certain that I did not evade any tax - and only that is the matter at hand here -- I am relaxed going into this process."

The payment had triggered several investigations in the past years over allegations it had been used as a slush fund to buy votes in favour of Germany's bid to host the 2006 tournament.

A DFB-commissioned investigation in 2016 had said the sum was the return of a loan via FIFA from former Adidas chief Robert Louis-Dreyfus.

In 2017 the German tax office had ordered the DFB to pay more than 20 million in back taxes related to the year 2006.

The trial is scheduled to last several months.

($1 = 0.9216 euros)

(Reporting by Karolos Grohmann; Editing by Christian Radnedge)

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