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Last Updated: Monday, 8 May 2006, 16:02 GMT 17:02 UK
World Cup sponsor in ticket probe
Berlin Olympic Stadium
Officials are worried VIP lounges at the stadiums may be empty
Prosecutors in Germany have begun a corruption investigation against the company EnBW for giving free World Cup tickets to top officials.

EnBW, a leading energy company, is one of the sponsors of the World Cup finals that begin in Germany next month.

German law prohibits giving large presents to state servants but the company says it has done nothing wrong.

Meanwhile, representatives of the World Cup organising committee have criticised the prosecutors.

The committee's vice-president Wolfgang Niersbach dismissed the suggestion that, by giving politicians tickets, companies may be accused of attempting to buy favours.

"It is grotesque and absurd that anyone who invites guests to World Cup matches or who receives an invitation is accused of having dishonest intentions," he said.

Climate of uncertainty

Committee members say politicians are now turning down invitations to football matches in fear of facing corruption allegations.

A month before the World Cup kicks off, there are now fears that the VIP lounges at the stadiums will be empty.

The president of the German football association has also said the investigations have created a climate of uncertainty - and that representatives of the German state should be present at World Cup matches.

The investigation is targeting the head of EnBW, Utz Claassen, as well as seven people who allegedly wanted to accept the tickets.

Under German law, it is illegal to give large presents to state officials, and the chief state prosecutor in the city of Munich said they should turn down any offers of tickets.

But EnBW insists it has done nothing wrong. A spokesman said the company would continue to offer tickets to people it wanted to invite to matches.

The BBC's Ray Furlong in Berlin says the row again focuses attention on criticisms of world governing body Fifa's ticketing policy for the World Cup, in which corporate sponsors have received nearly half a million tickets.

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