Football: Europe stunned by match-rigging bombshell

23rd November 2009, Comments 0 comments

European football is reeling from what one UEFA official called the continent's worst ever match-fixing scandal, with 200 games under suspicion of having been rigged in nine countries.

BERLIN - A 200-strong band operating across Europe is suspected of swaying matches in Germany, Belgium, Switzerland, Croatia, Slovenia, Turkey, Hungary, Bosnia-Hercegovina and Austria, prosecutors in Germany said on Friday.

By bribing players, coaches, referees and officials to influence matches, the gang is thought to have earned as much as 10 million euros (15 million dollars) in huge bets with bookmakers in Europe and Asia, primarily in China.

"But this is just the tip of the iceberg," investigating prosecutor Andreas Bachmann said.

"UEFA will be demanding the harshest of sanctions ... for any individuals, clubs or officials who are implicated in this malpractice," UEFA general secretary Gianni Infantino said in a statement.

The games include three Champions League ties, 12 matches in the Europa League, formerly the UEFA Cup, one qualifying game for the under-21 European championship. All took place this season.

UEFA said it would give details of the matches at a later stage, but the 15 at European level involved early qualifying round games, while the rest were under the jurisdictions of national football associations.

It said that the list included 40 matches that UEFA had previously said were under suspicion.

"Without doubt this is the biggest scam there has ever been in European football," UEFA's match-fixing specialist Peter Limacher said in Germany, where the probe was organised.

"We are deeply shocked by the scale of match-fixing through international gangs. We now have to do everything possible to ensure that referees, players and officials implicated face justice," Limacher told reporters.

Around 300 police carried out around 50 raids on Thursday in Germany, Britain, Switzerland and Austria, arresting 15 people in Germany and two in Switzerland. More than a million euros in cash and property were seized.

Two of those arrested in Thursday included two Croatian brothers living in Berlin, Ante and Milan Sapina, who were at the centre of a match-fixing scandal that rocked Germany in 2004, newspapers said.

Investigators are also looking at 32 matches in Germany, including four in the second division, three in the third, 23 games in regional leagues and two under-19 clashes.

Elsewhere, 29 matches in Turkey from the first division downwards, 14 in Croatia's first division, 13 in Hungary's first division, eight in Bosnia-Hercegovina's top flight and 11 in Austria's first and second leagues.

In Slovenia, seven games in the first division have raised suspicions, as have 22 league games in the Swiss second division and six friendlies, plus 17 in Belgium's second division, prosecutors said.

They warned that the list could get longer.

The German scandal saw referee Robert Hoyzer jailed in 2005 after admitting receiving almost 70,000 euros (104,000 dollars) and a plasma television from the Croatian brothers to throw games.

The worst European match-fixing scandal to date was the Calciopoli affair in 2006 involving five Serie A clubs, referees and high-ranked Italian football federation (FIGC) officials.

It resulted in heavy punishments for top-flight clubs including Juventus, AC Milan and Fiorentina, with Juventus stripped of the 2004-05 and 2005-06 league titles.


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