Belgian police raid leading football clubs over match-fixing links

Belgian police have carried out a series of raids at football clubs and homes across the country on Wednesday, detaining several people for questioning about financial fraud and possible match-fixing, Belgian prosecutors said.

A total of 44 searches were carried out at top Belgian clubs and residences, federal prosecutors said in a statement. At the same time, searches of 13 houses also took place in France, Luxembourg, Cyprus, Montenegro, Serbia and Macedonia.

Prosecutors did not name any clubs or people. Belgian broadcasters VRT and RTBF said searches had taken place at leading teams including Anderlecht, Club Brugge and Standard Liege.

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

Club Brugge coach Ivan Leko spoke to police regarding the situation and was absent from club training on Wednesday.

A statement from Brugge said: "We have nothing to hide. Everything is pure. Of course, we are cooperating. The investigators wanted to inspect contracts and invoices, which we have given, which will show that everything is clean and in order."

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.

"Match-fixing undermines the integrity of sports. The Justice Department is working for a fair sport," Justice Minister Koen Geens said.

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

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

"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.

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

Information from ESPN FC's Belgium correspondent Sven Claes was used in this report.