Nine arrested in Belgian football fraud, match-fixing scandal

Belgian prosecutors said on Friday that they had charged 19 people, including two referees, agents and the coach of champions Brugge, with fraud or match-fixing.

Three days after an operation targeting nine Belgian clubs, and raids in seven countries, the charges filed include belonging to a criminal organisation, match-fixing, money-laundering and corruption, federal prosecutor's spokeswoman Wenke Roggen said.

Nine of the 19 remained in custody, including agents Dejan Veljkovic and Mogi Bayat, charged with having set up schemes to hide fees paid to themselves and players, and referee Bart Vertenten.

Ivan Leko, the Croatian coach of Brugge, was among those released, although he is charged with money-laundering. He returned to training on Friday.

"I will fight back. This is not the first time I was on zero ... I didn't deserve this," he told the broadcaster VTM.

Of the others charged, a number are officials at Mechelen and Waasland-Beveren, who played each other on the final day of the Belgium top flight's regular season in March.

Prosecutors suspect that match, won 2-0 by Mechelen, and one a week before when Antwerp beat Mechelen's relegation rivals Eupen 2-0, were fixed.

In that game, Vertenten awarded Antwerp a penalty after a foul committed just outside the penalty area.

Prosecutors say Veljkovic colluded with officials and referees to prevent Mechelen being relegated, although the club, winners of the Cup Winners' Cup in 1988, did in fact go down.

Three months after the national side reached the World Cup semifinals, the news indicating uncomfortably close ties between agents, officials and referees has dominated Belgian media.

Police raided 44 clubs and residences across Belgium on Wednesday, while a further 13 searches took place in France, Luxembourg, Cyprus, Montenegro, Serbia and Macedonia.

Among the nine clubs targeted were Belgium's "big three" of Anderlecht, Brugge and Standard Liege. The homes of directors, agents, referees and jewellers were also raided.

Bayat's lawyer stressed to Belgian television that his client was not accused of match-fixing or corruption, only of money-laundering.

Leko's lawyer said the only issue to be cleared up was a payment dating from 2015, before he was Brugge's coach, and that there was no way that this could amount to money-laundering.

Veljkovic's lawyer, Kris Luyckx, spoke to reporters but did not comment on whether or not his client was guilty of any wrongdoing.

Of four people detained abroad, Belgian authorities have sought extradition for two.