BRUSSELS, BELGIUM (AFP, REUTERS) - Belgian police raided football clubs across the country on Wednesday (Oct 10) and detained the coach of domestic champions Club Bruges, two top agents and others for questioning about financial fraud and possible match-fixing.
Police carried out a total of 44 searches at leading Belgian clubs and residences, federal prosecutors said in a statement. A further 13 raids also took place in France, Luxembourg, Cyprus, Montenegro, Serbia and Macedonia.
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 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 at the end of 2017 into suspect financial transactions in the top Belgian league, 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.
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.
"I am asking for full transparency and cooperation from the football world to this investigation," said Philippe Muyters, sports minister from Belgium's Dutch-speaking Flemish region. "The athletes and especially the numerous supporters are entitled to a fair sport."