The trial of three former high-ranking German Football Association (DFB) officials and ex-FIFA general secretary Urs Linsi in a case involving a suspect payment linked to the 2006 World Cup has been adjourned due to the coronavirus outbreak.
According to reports in Germany, judge Sylvia Frei has ordered an expert witness to assess whether Theo Zwanziger, a former DFB President, and ex-DFB general secretary Horst Schmidt are fit to travel to the trial in Bellinzona, near to the Italian border.
Only Linsi arrived in court for the start of the trial on Monday (March 9), before former DFB President Wolfgang Niersbach made a surprise appearance today.
Reports had claimed Frei would order Zwanziger, Niersbach and Schmidt to be tried in absentia if they again failed to appear.
An indictment from Swiss federal prosecutors alleges Linsi, Zwanziger and Schmidt jointly committed fraud and Niersbach was complicit in fraud by misleading the 2006 World Cup Organising Committee’s oversight panel.
The case revolves around a €6.7 million (£6.2 million/$7.5 million) payment, allegedly used to help bribe members of FIFA’s ruling Executive Committee, which has since been rebranded as the Council, who had a vote to decide the host of the 2006 World Cup.
The four officials all deny wrongdoing, while the DFB claim the payment was the return of a personal loan taken out by Franz Beckenbauer from then Adidas Chief Executive Robert Louis-Dreyfus, which went through FIFA.
The same sum was allegedly given to banned former FIFA vice-president Mohammed bin Hammam by Beckenbauer, who is a criminal suspect but was not indicted due to health reasons.
Niersbach was present today, when the judge asked for an expert witness to determine whether Zwanziger and Schmidt are well enough to attend trial.
All four defendants are deemed to have a high risk of catching the coronavirus due to their age.
“I have to accept this health risk because I want to finally get rid of the nightmare of this four-year procedure,” Niersbach said, according to the German news agency dpa.
The virus, officially known as COVID-19 and declared a pandemic by the World Health Organization today, has killed 4,590 people and infected over 124,000 worldwide.
Italy now has the most cases outside of China, where the virus originated.
More than 12,000 cases and 827 deaths have been recorded in Italy, prompting Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte to order a lockdown across the entire country.