GENEVA, Feb 26: FIFA’s ethics judges closed a bribery investigation against German great Franz Beckenbauer because a statute of limitations expired, soccer’s world governing body said.

Beckenbauer and other German officials who helped organise the 2006 World Cup had been subject to a FIFA ethics investigation opened in 2016. There was no time limitation on bribery prosecutions in FIFA’s ethics code until it amended the rules in 2018 to add a 10-year limit.

Cases against Theo Zwanziger, who once replaced Beckenbauer on the FIFA executive committee member, and Horst Schmidt were also closed, FIFA said on Thursday.

The case involved a complex trail of suspect payments between the German World Cup organisers, FIFA and Qatari soccer official Mohamed bin Hammam ahead of the 2006 tournament.

“Mr Beckenbauer’s actions were related and limited to the bribe payment of (10 million Swiss francs) to Mr Bin Hammam, which occurred in 2002,” FIFA ethics judges said.

Federal prosecutors in Switzerland had also investigated the case but their criminal trial collapsed in April last year, also because a statute of limitations was set to expire.

Beckenbauer was not indicted for that trial, after prosecutors accepted his health reasons, though he was set to give evidence as a witness by video link.

A dispute between FIFA and the 75-year-old Beckenbauer about his state of health was revealed in the ruling published on Thursday to explain why the ethics case was closed. Beckenbauer’s lawyers said he could not be interrogated because he was “suffering from a progressive neurodegenerative disease (and) there is no expectation of a notable improvement.”

Those details were provided in a March 2020 medical certificate also given to Swiss prosecutors ahead of the trial.

“Mr Beckenbauer is not in a position to participate in lengthy oral questioning or proceedings,” his lawyers told FIFA. However, FIFA judges noted that Beckenbauer had attended public events and given interviews last year, including events to celebrate 30 years since he coached West Germany to win the 1990 World Cup.  – AP