ZURICH (Reuters) - The Swiss fraud trial of three former senior German soccer officials and one Swiss over a suspect payment linked to the 2006 World Cup hosted by Germany looked on the verge of collapse as the court ordered a weeks-long halt on Tuesday.
The Federal Criminal Court said it had stopped the trial until at least April 20, citing Swiss government instructions for people older than 65 to avoid public contact given the risks posed by the coronavirus outbreak.
“All the defendants are older than 65 and have pertinent medical preconditions, so they belong to the risk group as decreed,” the court said in a statement.
The cases against the men could be dropped under the statute of limitations if no convictions come in by April 27.
The Swiss indictment alleges former German Football Association (DFB) presidents Theo Zwanziger and Wolfgang Niersbach, senior DFB official Horst Schmidt and former Swiss FIFA official Urs Linsi misled members of a DFB body about the true purpose of a payment of 10 million Swiss francs (8.6 million pounds).
The four men have denied any wrongdoing.
Proceedings against German soccer great Franz Beckenbauer, who is also under investigation in the case, continued separately because his health problems made it impossible to question him, the Swiss Attorney General’s Office (OAG) has said.
Beckenbauer, a World Cup-winning player and coach for Germany, headed the 2006 World Cup organising committee.
Schmidt, Zwanziger and Linsi are accused of fraud and Niersbach of being complicit in fraud in the charges.
The investigation revealed that in 2002 Beckenbauer accepted a loan of 10 million francs in his own name and for his own account from Robert Louis-Dreyfus. This sum was used to fund various payments made via a Swiss law firm to a Qatari company belonging to Mohammed Bin Hammam, the OAG said.
At the time, Bin Hammam was a member of the FIFA Executive Committee and the FIFA Finance Committee.
The payment in question triggered several investigations and led to Niersbach’s resignation over allegations it was used as a slush fund to buy votes in favour of Germany’s bid to host the 2006 tournament.
Reporting by Michael Shields; Editing by Alexandra Hudson