BOCHUM, Germany (AFP) - In what one UEFA official called European football's worst ever match-fixing scandal, investigators said Friday criminals may have netted 10 million euros rigging 200 games in nine countries.
A 200-strong band operating across Europe is suspected of swaying matches in Germany, Belgium, Switzerland, Croatia, Slovenia, Turkey, Hungary, Bosnia-Hercegovina and Austria, prosecutors in Germany said.
They include three Champions League ties, 12 matches in the Europa League, formerly the UEFA Cup, one qualifying game for the under-21 European championship and four from the German second division.
All the games took place this season.
UEFA said it would give details of the matches later, but the 15 at European level involved early qualifying round games, while the rest were under the jurisdictions of national football associations.
It said that the list included 40 matches that UEFA had previously said were under suspicion.
By bribing players, coaches, referees and officials to influence matches, the criminals are then believed to have earned millions by placing huge bets on the games with bookmakers in Europe and Asia, primarily in China.
"Without doubt this is the biggest scam there has ever been in European football," UEFA's match-fixing specialist Peter Limacher said in Germany, where the probe was organised.
"We are deeply shocked by the scale of match-fixing through international gangs. We now have to do everything possible to ensure that referees, players and officials implicated face justice," Limacher told reporters.
Around 300 police carried out around 50 raids on Thursday in Germany, Britain, Switzerland and Austria, arresting 15 people in Germany and two in Switzerland. More than a million euros in cash and property were seized.
"But this is just the tip of the iceberg," investigating prosecutor Andreas Bachmann said.
Two of those arrested in Thursday included two Croatian brothers living in Berlin, Ante and Milan Sapina, who were at the centre of a match-fixing scandal that rocked Germany in 2004, newspapers said.
"UEFA will be demanding the harshest of sanctions before the competent courts for any individuals, clubs or officials who are implicated in this malpractice, be it under state or sports jurisdiction," UEFA General Secretary Gianni Infantino said in a statement.
Investigators are also looking at 32 matches in Germany, including two in the second division, three in the third, 23 games in regional leagues and two under-19 clashes.
Elsewhere, 29 matches in Turkey from the first division downwards, 14 in Croatia's first division, 13 in Hungary's first division, eight in Bosnia-Hercegovina's top flight and 11 in Austria's first and second leagues.
In Slovenia, seven games in the first division have raised suspicions, as have 22 league games in the Swiss second division and six friendlies, plus 17 in Belgium's second division, prosecutors said.
They warned that the list could get longer.
The 2004 German scandal saw referee Robert Hoyzer sentenced to two years and five months behind bars after admitting receiving almost 70,000 euros (104,000 dollars) and a plasma television from a Croatian mafia ring to throw games.
One of the worst European match-fixing scandal to date was the Calciopoli affair in 2006 involving five Serie A clubs, referees and high-ranked Italian football federation (FIGC) officials.
It resulted in heavy punishments for top-flight clubs including Juventus, AC Milan and Fiorentina, with Juventus stripped of the 2004-05 and 2005-06 league titles.
In 2005, Brazilian referee Edilson Pereira de Carvalho was banned for life after admitting match fixing. It culminated in the results of 11 league matches he had officiated being cancelled.
In 1999, four men were jailed for 12 years for plotting to sabotage an English Premiership match between Charlton and Liverpool in a multi-million pound Far Eastern betting scam by tampering with stadium floodlights.
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