The Swiss trial of four officials linked to the 2006 FIFA World Cup has ended without a verdict after the five-year statute of limitations passed.

Three figures from the German Football Association (DFB) – ex-President Theo Zwanziger, Wolfgang Niersbach and Horst Schmidt – were charged with fraud alongside ex-FIFA general secretary Urs Linsi in relation to a CFH10 million (£8.3 million/$10.3 million/€9.5 million) payment.

Legendary German footballer Franz Beckenbauer, who led Germany’s bid for the 2006 World Cup and was chairman of the Organising Committee, was under investigation but never charged owing to his health, according to the Office of the Attorney General.

Prosecutors alleged that the accused misled the DFB over the payment, alleging it was used to help bribe members of FIFA’s 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 and the DFB claims the payment was the return of a personal loan taken out by Beckenbauer from Robert Louis-Dreyfus, who was Adidas’ chief executive at the time, which went through FIFA.

Beckenbauer allegedly sent the same amount to money into accounts linked to disgraced former Asian Football Confederation President Mohamed Bin Hammam.

Germany won the right to host the tournament by the narrowest of margins, beating South Africa 12-11 in the final vote, and allegations of vote-rigging have since emerged.

The trial had been delayed by the coronavirus pandemic and too much time has now elapsed to secure a conviction.

FIFA said it was “deeply disappointed” at the development.

“For its part, FIFA fully cooperated with this investigation over the years, responding to many requests made by the Office of the Attorney General and incurring significant costs and management time in doing so. 

“The fact that the case has now ended without a result of any kind is very worrying, not only for football but also for the administration of justice in Switzerland.

“We hope that the truth around the CHF10 million payment will one day come to light and that those having committed wrongful acts will be duly sanctioned, if not in Switzerland, then maybe somewhere else.”

FIFA added that the case was “certainly not over” in its eyes and vowed that its Ethics Committee would continue to investigate.

Swiss Attorney General Michael Lauber has faced criticism for his handling of football corruption cases and the manner in which this one has ended will only add fuel to that fire.

Lauber, who was recently sanctioned for disloyalty, lying and breaching his office’s code of conduct, is under further pressure after it emerged he held undocumented meetings with FIFA President Gianni Infantino.