BRUSSELS (Reuters) - Belgian prosecutors charged a referee and four other people on Thursday with match-fixing in the country’s top soccer league in a broad investigation into alleged corruption in Belgian football.
Prosecutors said a judge had charged four people with criminal organisation and corruption and a fifth with money laundering - agent Dejan Veljkovic, referee Sebastien Delferiere and officials of KV Mechelen and Waasland-Beveren, who played each other on the final day of the regular season in March.
None of the five or their lawyers have commented on the accusations.
Three months after the Belgian national side reached the World Cup semi-finals, Thursday’s news indicating uncomfortably close ties between agents, soccer officials and referees has dominated Belgian media.
Belgium defender and former captain Vincent Kompany told broadcaster VTM that no one should be surprised.
“The link is very close to the world of human trafficking, drug dealing and prostitution, where there’s a lot of money on offer. Where hidden transactions are possible, you have that. There are a lot of good people, but also many bad,” he said.
Prosecutor Wenke Roggen detailed the case against two soccer agents, suspected of hiding their fees and other payments, and attempts to fix the results of two matches last season in a bid to prevent the relegation of Mechelen from the top Jupiter Pro League.
In the first suspect match, on March 3, FC Antwerp beat Mechelen’s relegation rivals Eupen 2-0 thanks to a penalty awarded following a tackle just outside the penalty area.
On March 11, the last day of the regular season, Mechelen beat Waasland-Beveren 2-0, but Eupen pulled off a sensational 4-0 victory to overtake Mechelen by dint of a superior goal difference of one.
Mechelen, who won the European Cup Winners’ Cup in 1988, were relegated.
Prosecutors said Veljkovic had contacted referee Delferiere, who was not in charge of either match, and offered benefits in return for favours, such as possibly influencing the suspension proceedings against a player.
Belgian police raided 44 Belgian clubs and residences across the country on Wednesday, while a further 13 searches took place in France, Luxembourg, Cyprus, Montenegro, Serbia and Macedonia. [L8N1WQ2NO]
In Belgium, 29 people have been detained, of whom 22 were to appear before a judge to face charges including criminal organisation, money laundering and corruption. Of four people detained abroad, Belgian authorities have sought extradition for two.
The raids took place at the premises of nine soccer clubs, including the “big three” of Anderlecht, Club Bruges and Standard Liege, as well as the homes of six directors, four agents, two referees, two jewellers and of Ivan Leko, the Croatian coach of champions Bruges.
Bruges are playing in Champions League Group A with Atletico Madrid, AS Monaco and Borussia Dortmund.
During the searches, Roggen said investigators found packaging for luxury watches worth 8 million euros ($9.25 million), as well as jewels and cash.
Veljkovic, who is Serbian, and another leading soccer agent, French-Iranian Mogi Bayat, are also charged with having set up schemes to move money out of Belgium to hide fees paid to themselves and to players.
($1 = 0.8645 euros)
Reporting by Philip Blenkinsop, editing by Ed Osmond