MONTPELLIER, France (Reuters) - French handball champions Montpellier are involved in an investigation into match-fixing relating to a first division game earlier this year.
A judicial source told Reuters late on Tuesday that suspicious bets were placed on a match that Montpellier, French champions every year since 2008, surprisingly lost to Cesson Sevigne on May 12.
The source spoke on condition of anonymity because they are not allowed to comment on the matter publicly.
The federation and league declined comment but Montpellier officials were shocked to learn of the investigation.
Club president Remy Levy told local newspaper Le Midi Libre on Wednesday that he had been spoken to as part of the investigation but denied that the club was involved in match-fixing.
“The club vigorously denies that it is involved in the result of the game,” Levy said in a statement.
He added that the club would become plaintive in the case to “defend (their) honour”, a move that would also allow them privileged access to the case files.
“I cannot imagine that Montpellier handball players can have become the kind of persons you don’t want to be associated with,” Patrick Vignal, the Montpellier city head of sports, told reporters.
Joel Abati, a former Montpellier player and 2008 Olympic champion now in charge of sports affairs at the Languedoc Roussillon region, said there should be no rush to judge the players before the truth is learned.
“This is something we could not have imagined,” he said.
“Presumption of innocence must be respected. If it is all true, the whole sport of handball in France will be affected.”
Cesson Sevigne president Philippe Barberet said he saw nothing untoward during the game against Montpellier.
“Nobody saw anything during the game, nobody could have suspected anything,” he told French radio RTL on Wednesday.
“I don’t understand.”
Montpellier, the 2003 European champions, have several Olympic champions in their team, including 2011 French sportsperson of the year Nikola Karabatic.
Reporting by Dimitri Moulins; Writing by Julien Pretot in Paris; Editing by Peter Rutherford/John O'Brien