Football: Belgium rocked by police raids on leading football clubs

From top: FC Bruges coach Ivan Leko and football agent Mogi Bayat were among those taken in by police for questioning yesterday. Right: Investigators outside the premises of Belgian first division side Gent yesterday. A total of 44 house searches wer
Above: Investigators outside the premises of Belgian first division side Gent yesterday. A total of 44 house searches were carried out, including at Belgium's "Big Three" clubs - Anderlecht, Standard Liege and Bruges. The raids and arrests come just three months after the country reached the World Cup semi-finals.PHOTO: AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE
From top: FC Bruges coach Ivan Leko and football agent Mogi Bayat were among those taken in by police for questioning yesterday. Right: Investigators outside the premises of Belgian first division side Gent yesterday. A total of 44 house searches wer
FC Bruges coach Ivan Leko (above) and football agent Mogi Bayat were among those taken in by police for questioning yesterday. PHOTO: AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE
From top: FC Bruges coach Ivan Leko and football agent Mogi Bayat were among those taken in by police for questioning yesterday. Right: Investigators outside the premises of Belgian first division side Gent yesterday. A total of 44 house searches wer
FC Bruges coach Ivan Leko and football agent Mogi Bayat (above) were among those taken in by police for questioning yesterday. PHOTO: AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE

Football coaches, agents and referees detained for questioning on alleged fraud and match-fixing

BRUSSELS • Belgian police raided football clubs across the country yesterday, detaining the coach of domestic champions Club Bruges, two top agents and others for questioning about financial fraud and alleged match-fixing.

A total of 220 police officers carried out 44 house searches across Belgium as well as in France, Luxembourg, Cyprus, Montenegro, Serbia and Macedonia, Belgian prosecutors said.

The arrests included well-known football agent Mogi Bayat, the former manager of Sporting Charleroi, who had been arrested in his home.

Bayat, a 44-year-old Belgian-Iranian, was the main target of the probe, Belgian media reports said, along with fellow agent Dejan Veljkovic and clubs with which they did business.

Investigators are also questioning a former general manager of Anderlecht, Herman van Holsbeeck, and two referees, judicial sources said.

Belgium's "Big Three" clubs - Anderlecht, Standard Liege and Bruges - all confirmed their premises had been searched.

Bruges said their Croatian coach Ivan Leko was also taken in for questioning. The club are competing in the Champions League this season against Atletico Madrid, Monaco and Borussia Dortmund.

At Standard Liege, according to a report in the daily Le Soir, police seized contracts involving players Obbi Oulare, Michel Preudhomme and Dino Arslanagic that were all linked to Bayat. Other clubs raided included current league leaders Racing Genk and 2014-2015 champions KAA Gent.

The raids and arrests come just three months after the country reached the World Cup semi-finals.

That success was achieved with a squad largely nurtured as teenagers in the local Jupiler Pro League before their Belgian clubs transferred them for substantial profits to bigger-name outfits in England, France, Italy and Germany.

"A large number of people have been deprived of their liberty and taken in for a thorough interrogation," the prosecutors said, adding that a judge would later decide who should be held in custody or formally arrested.

Prosecutors said the searches were related to an investigation launched late last year into suspect financial transactions in the top tier of Belgian football, with possible charges of criminal organisation, money-laundering and corruption.

Some agents were suspected of hiding commissions on transfers, players' pay and other payments from the Belgian authorities, the prosecutors said.

"During the investigation, there were indications of possible influencing of matches in the 2017-2018 season," the prosecutors said.

Philippe Muyters, sports minister of Belgium's Dutch-speaking Flemish region, appealed for "full transparency and cooperation from the football world to this investigation". He added: "The athletes and especially the numerous supporters are entitled to a fair sport."

Some of the house searches were carried out at the homes of club directors, agents, referees, a former lawyer, a trainer, journalists and at an accountancy office.

The searches abroad were chiefly at offices and residences of people used to set up the suspect transactions, the prosecutors said.

AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE, REUTERS

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on October 11, 2018, with the headline 'Belgium rocked by raids on leading clubs'. Print Edition | Subscribe