Germany: World Cup Organisers Shaken By Alpine Bribery

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Germany's World Cup organisers said on Wednesday they were "shaken" and deeply hurt by charges of corruption that have been levelled at top Munich soccer executives over the construction of the city's new stadium.

But leaders of the 2006 Organising Committee, stressing they had nothing to do with the criminal investigation that was made public on Tuesday, said they were confident the stadium would be completed in time for the opening match of the 2006 Cup finals.

"It's terribly painful," said Wolfgang Niersbach, vice president of the Organising Committee.

"We've always worked in a clean, clear and transparent fashion, and that was to be our motto for 2006. That this was possible at all hurts very much."

He said committee president Franz Beckenbauer was "also shaken" by the probe by prosecutors into TSV 1860 Munich executives on suspicion they took bribes from a company that won the bid to build the 280 million euro ($350 million) stadium.

"I can only sincerely hope, based on what the finals mean for our country, that there won't be anything else emerging that we don't know about today," Niersbach told NDR radio when asked about fears of irregularities at other stadium projects.

Germany's interior minister Otto Schily, who is responsible for sport, said he hoped the probe would move forward quickly and rigorously to "limit the damage" to Germany's World Cup.

"The shocking and serious corruption charges have to be cleared up completely and without regard for whoever is involved," Schily said. "The only way to prevent a shadow falling on the World Cup is a quick and thorough investigation."

Management position

Karl-Heinz Wildmoser, his son, who holds a management position at the stadium's holding company, and two others were arrested on Tuesday, Munich prosecutors said.

They are under suspicion of getting a 2.8-million-euro ($3.5-million) bribe from Austrian construction company Alpine, during the bidding process for the contract for the 66,000-seat stadium known as the Allianz Arena, they said.

The sum, equal to one percent of the stadium costs, came to light when authorities conducted a probe into the tax records of a construction company belonging to a friend of Wildmoser's son.

The half-finished venue, to be finished next April, is set to host the first match of the 2006 World Cup on June 9, 2006.

Organising Committee spokesman Gerd Graus said the probe and arrests would have no impact on the construction of the arena.

"We are only indirectly affected by this, not directly," Graus told Reuters.

"We weren't involved. This is a matter for the operators of the stadium. We're sure the construction will continue and be completed on time."

But German soccer officials were nevertheless concerned about the damage to the country's image.

It comes less than a year after Beckenbauer denied any wrongdoing in an unrelated case.

The Sueddeutsche Zeitung newspaper had reported in April 2003 that Bayern Munich and a firm linked to media mogul Leo Kirch had offered financial kick-backs to four small federations in a bid to influence the hosting vote in 2000.

The Munich daily had said Bayern agreed to play friendlies in the countries with the Kirch company footing the bill for TV rights in exchange in the FIFA vote, in which Germany surprisingly beat South Africa by a single vote, 12-11.

"Germany is in a state of shock," wrote Bild newspaper sports editor Alfred Draxler in an editorial on Wednesday. "A first shadow has been cast on our beautiful World Cup. The whole world is watching us and even more critically now."

But Graus said the probe in Munich would not tarnish the image of the World Cup.

"We don't see that happening," he said. "It's unfortunate for German football but we don't think there will be any long-term damage."

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