Belgian prosecutors charge 19 suspects in fraud and match-fixing investigation

Belgian prosecutors have charged 19 suspects and detained nine in the fraud and match-fixing investigation that has enveloped the country’s top football league.

The offices of four of Belgium’s biggest clubs – Anderlecht, Club Brugge, Standard Liege and Genk – were raided in Wednesday as police arrested 29 people, though 10 were subsequently released without charge.

Referees, officials, agents and coaches were all among those questioned after 44 raids were conducted across Belgium and 13 more across France, Luxembourg, Cyprus, Montenegro, Macedonia and Serbia.

Mogi Bayat, one of the most powerful intermediaries in Belgian football, has been charged with money laundering and conspiracy, while fellow agents Dejan Veljkovic and Karim Mejjati were also questioned.

Bart Vertenten, the referee of Celtic’s Champions League qualifier against Rosenborg earlier this season, was also charged with conspiracy and arrested, while former Anderlecht club lawyer Laurent Denis was charged for both conspiracy and money laundering.

On Thursday, another referee, Sebastien Delferiere, was charged but was immediately released on parole. Vertenten and Delferiere were suspended on Thursday with immediate effect by the Belgian Football Federation.

The charges against referees are part of a probe into suspected match-fixing by Veljkovic in a failed effort to save formerly top-tier KV Mechelen from relegation to the second division.

Club Brugge coach Ivan Leko, whose team is playing in the Champion’s League, was charged with money laundering on Thursday and released. Hearings before the judge were held throughout night with former Anderlecht boss Herman Van Holsbeeck released without charges. Another agent was arrested in Serbia on Thursday and is awaiting extradition.

The federal prosecutor said on Wednesday that a year-long probe into soccer shows evidence of “suspect financial operations” by sports agents and indications “of possible influencing of games” over the last season. 

The statement said some soccer agents, independent from one another, “would have schemed to hide” transfer commissions, payments of players and coaches, and other payments from the Belgian authorities, causing tax losses.

It was during the investigation, the prosecutor’s office said, that indications appeared that there may have been match-fixing during the 2017-18 season.

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