BRUSSELS: A top football referee and a Belgian club executive were among the first suspects charged on Thursday in a massive fraud and match-fixing scandal that has engulfed Belgium’s elite league, prosecutors said.
Prosecutors said more than 20 suspects were being investigated a day after hundreds of police carried out 44 house searches across Belgium, France, Luxembourg, Cyprus, Montenegro, Serbia and Macedonia.
The judge in charge of the case has also issued European arrest warrants to seek the extradition of suspects detained abroad, a spokeswoman for the federal prosecutor’s office told reporters in Brussels.
The enquiry is focused on some of Belgium’s best-known football agents, including Mogi Bayat, the former manager of Sporting Charleroi, who was arrested in his home on suspected links to crooked transfer deals.
Another agent Dejan Veljkovic is suspected of both fraud and match-fixing, according to Belgian media reports.
Suspicions of match-fixing emerged during the fraud investigation, with a focus on matches played in the 2017-18 season, prosecutors said.
Veljkovic is alleged to have engineered a match-fixing scheme with a Belgian referee in a failed effort to save club KV Mechelen from relegation.
The Mechelen financial director, Thierry Steemans, has been detained and charged in the match-fixing case, Flemish daily De Standaard reported.
The searches were carried out at the headquarters of nine football clubs, including Mechelen, Anderlecht, Club Brugge, Genk and Standard Liege.
Club Brugge coach Ivan Leko, whose team is playing in the Champions League this season, was released after questioning on Thursday.
The house searches outside Belgium were mainly connected to the suspect transfer schemes, said prosecutors.
The investigation started in late 2017 as a result of a report drawn up by the Sports Fraud Cell.