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Monday 19 August 2019

German football federation president quits over Fifa payment

The payment led to a tax evasion probe against Wolfgang Niersbach and two other former top-ranking officials
The payment led to a tax evasion probe against Wolfgang Niersbach and two other former top-ranking officials

The president of the German football federation has resigned over a suspect payment to Fifa, saying he was taking "political responsibility" despite not having done anything wrong.

The payment in connection with the 2006 World Cup in Germany has led to a tax evasion probe against Wolfgang Niersbach and two other former top-ranking officials with the DFB.

"I have realised myself that that the time has come to take political responsibility for the events around the 2006 World Cup ... (although) I can say that I worked there absolutely cleanly and conscientiously," Mr Niersbach told reporters after an emergency meeting of the DFB board.

Frankfurt prosecutors are investigating a payment of 6.7 million euros (£4.7 million) the federation made to Fifa in connection with the 2006 tournament.

Mr Niersbach, who has been president of the DFB since 2012, is also a member of the executive committees of Fifa and Uefa. He had been seen as a possible successor to Michel Platini as Uefa president.

Rainer Koch and Reinhard Rauball, two DFB vice presidents, will jointly take over in a caretaker position and said they wanted Mr Niersbach to continue working in the international bodies. The board had no power to dismiss Mr Niersbach, who stressed that the resignation was a personal decision.

"Things have surfaced in the past few days that lead me to resign, in the sense of political responsibility," Mr Niersbach said, without giving details.

The 64-year-old said he was stepping down "with a heavy heart" and "I can say in good conscience that I have nothing to reproach myself" with over the payment at the centre of the case.

He was a high-ranking member of the 2006 World Cup organising committee in charge of media and marketing and said in a statement that he had not been involved in the payment and did not know about it at the time.

Mr Niersbach said the 2006 World Cup remained "a highlight in my career".

"That's why it is more than bitter to find out now that apparently things happened then of which I had no knowledge," he told reporters. He declined to take questions.

His predecessor, Theo Zwanziger, had accused him of lying and said he had been aware of the payment at the time. Mr Zwanziger has also said that Germany used a slush fund to buy votes for its successful bid to stage the 2006 World Cup, an allegation denied by Mr Niersbach.

Mr Zwanziger and former DFB general secretary Horst R Schmidt are also implicated in the tax evasion probe. Agents searched the homes of the three men last week and seized documents.

When the affair broke, Mr Niersbach said last month that the money was paid to Fifa in return for a substantial grant to the organising committee in a deal brokered by Franz Beckenbauer and the now suspended Fifa president Sepp Blatter. It was paid through a French businessman and later repaid, according to Mr Niersbach. Beckenbauer has spoken little on the subject, except to say that the deal was a mistake.

Mr Blatter and Fifa have denied any knowledge of the payment. It was made on behalf of the DFB by the late Adidas chief Robert Louis-Dreyfus in 2002 and repaid in 2005, according to Mr Niersbach's version.

Frankfurt prosecutors say the payment was falsely declared to evade taxes.

PA Media

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