German great Beckenbauer targeted in FIFA ethics probe

ZURICH (AP) German soccer great Franz Beckenbauer and FIFA vice president Angel Maria Villar have been investigated by ethics prosecutors and are awaiting verdicts in their cases, the governing body’s ethics panel said Wednesday.

Both Beckenbauer and Villar – now serving as FIFA’s No. 2 official while President Sepp Blatter is suspended – have previously been identified by media as targets of the investigation into the bidding for the 2018 and 2022 World Cups.

Both men face sanctions for obstructing then-FIFA prosecutor Michael Garcia’s investigation, ethics committee spokesman Marc Tenbuecken told The Associated Press.

With Garcia’s inquiry failing to find evidence of corruption involving Russia and Qatar, it falls to a criminal investigation of suspected money laundering led by Switzerland’s attorney general to ascertain whether there was any financial wrongdoing in those World Cup bidding contests. The Russian and Qatari awards have been tainted by five years of so-far unproven allegations.

The official disclosure Wednesday inflicts more damage on FIFA, which is reeling from waves of corruption allegations that led the ethics committee two weeks ago to suspend Blatter and the front-runner to succeed him as president, Michel Platini.

In a wide-ranging statement, the ethics committee said it aimed to judge Blatter and Platini during their 90- day suspensions.

Blatter is also under criminal investigation by Swiss authorities for a suspected ”disloyal payment” of around $2 million from FIFA funds in 2011 to Platini, who was also questioned. Both deny wrongdoing.

In a separate case, suspended FIFA secretary general Jerome Valcke is accused of ”misuse of expenses and other infringements of FIFA’s rules and regulations,” the ethics committee said.

The announcement Wednesday comes the day after the FIFA executive committee agreed to lift strict secrecy rules it imposed on the ethics committee in 2012, and which prosecutor Cornel Borbely and judge Joachim Eckert argued were harming their work.

Villar was second-in-command at that executive session on Tuesday, which also made him interim head of FIFA’s organizing committee for the 2018 World Cup in Russia, replacing Platini.

Public naming of the Spanish football federation president adds to embarrassment for UEFA, where Villar is the highest ranking elected official after Platini was suspended by FIFA pending his ethics inquiry.

Beckenbauer and former Spain international Villar were members of FIFA’s much-discredited executive committee when it chose Russia and Qatar as future World Cup hosts in December 2010.

Ten of the 24 executive committee members in 2010 have been banned or suspended from duty by the ethics panel.

Seven more, including Beckenbauer and Villar, have been investigated by the ethics committee or faced allegations of wrongdoing in the World Cup bid contests. Interim FIFA President Issa Hayatou denied allegations by a British Parliamentary committee that he took a seven-figure bribe to vote for Qatar.

”If two other countries had emerged from the envelope, I think we would not have these problems today,” Blatter told the FIFA Congress in May.

The Russian and Qatari wins – over losing bidders including England, Australia and the United States – provoked rifts among former allies and intense scrutiny of allegations of bribery, financial favors and rules-breaking voting pacts.

Under pressure to investigate the allegations seriously, FIFA appointed former U.S. Attorney Garcia in July 2012 as its ethics prosecutor.

Garcia delivered his investigation report to Eckert in September 2014 only after finding trouble dealing with Beckenbauer and Villar.

Beckenbauer, who captained and coached World Cup-winning West Germany teams, twice refused to meet with Garcia and was barred from traveling to the World Cup in Brazil by a provisional suspension. It was lifted during the tournament when he sent answers to Garcia.

Villar, a lawyer who chairs FIFA’s legal committee, tried to have Garcia thrown off the case in March 2014 after the prosecutor came to Zurich to question FIFA officials.

Before the 2010 vote, FIFA’s ethics committee under different leadership dismissed claims that Villar and Qatari official Mohamed bin Hammam were involved in a vote-trading pact that broke election rules.

Also, a new case was announced Wednesday against a FIFA executive committee member who was barred from the 2018-2022 vote for seeking bribes.

Amos Adamu of Nigeria served a three-year ban for seeking almost $1 million from undercover reporters posing as lobbyists. Details of the latest case against Adamu were not given.

The statement also confirmed ongoing probes of three officials – former FIFA vice presidents Jeffrey Webb and Eugenio Figueredo, and former executive committee member Nicolas Leoz – who were indicted for bribery by the U.S. Department of Justice in May.

Longtime Brazilian football leader Ricardo Teixeira is also under investigation, the ethics committee confirmed.

Teixeira resigned from the FIFA executive committee in 2012 to avoid sanctions in a multi-million dollar World Cup kickbacks case, which also implicated his former father-in-law Joao Havelange, who was FIFA president from 1974-98.

Further cases seem sure to follow for embattled FIFA, whose 209 member federations will elect a new president in February.

The FIFA ethics panel said it is working confidentially on ”a moderate number of preliminary investigations against a number of football officials.”

Dunbar reported from Geneva