BRUSSELS • A top football referee and a Belgian club executive were among the first suspects charged yesterday in a massive fraud and match-fixing scandal that has engulfed Belgium's elite league, prosecutors said.
The judge in charge of the case has also issued two international arrest warrants against suspects arrested abroad, a spokesman for the federal prosecutor's office told reporters in Brussels.
Investigators yesterday questioned the country's most influential football agent, Mogi Bayat, a day after he and senior figures in Belgian football were detained on suspicion of financial fraud and possible match-fixing.
Among the 22 people under investigation are Ivan Leko, the coach of Belgium champions Club Bruges, who are in Group A of the Champions League; Herman van Holsbeeck, the former general manager of Anderlecht; referees and other officials.
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.
According to the Luxembourg Times, searches of several banks and a company based in the country have been ordered as part of the probe into dubious financial deals.
The public prosecutor's office in Luxembourg said it was acceding to a request from the federal prosecutor's office in Belgium for assistance on possible "criminal organisation and money laundering".
The lawyer for van Holsbeeck told radio broadcaster RTL that his client had been released on Wednesday after giving information about transfers and contracts, while Croat Leko was released yesterday after questioning.
Bayat, a high-profile figure who has brokered a series of larger player transfers in the country, issued a statement through his lawyer, complaining about the force used to detain him.
There has been widespread speculation about which matches might have been fixed, with many observers focusing on an extraordinary end to the league season last term, when Mechelen were relegated on a goal difference of one despite winning their final match 2-0.
Eupen scored four goals in the last 20 minutes of their season finale to stay up.
According to Sky Sports News, the Belgian Football Association (RBFA) will be making "no further comment in this regard in order to respect the current procedure".
"If the (RBFA) is brought to contribute to this inquiry, which concerns various stakeholders in Belgian football, it will of course do it in full transparency," it added.
AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE, REUTERS