Nine people remain in police custody in the Belgian corruption and match-fixing investigation following raids across the country on Wednesday. The charges range from criminal organisation to money laundering. Meanwhile all second division matches have been postponed this weekend.
Agent Dragan Siljanoski, agent Mogi Bayat, Laurent Denis, agent Dejan Veljkovic, Veljkovic’s wife , agent Karim Mejjati, referee Bart Vertenten and KV Mechelen board members Olivier Somers and Thierry Steemans have not been released by Belgian authorities as the scandal rumbles on.
Brugge coach Ivan Leko, originally held by police, has since been released under conditions he remains in the country and available for further questioning.
Leko returned to training on Friday morning after having spent two days in jail. “I have no idea how my reputation as a football coach has suffered, that will have to be seen. Do I want to press charges myself? I have not taken a decision about that yet. One thing is certain, I will fight back. With the support of my family, my girlfriend, my club and the supporters,” he said.
Brugge are Belgium’s defending champions, and sit second in the league this season, a point behind Genk. They also represent the country in the Champions League. Leko’s team lost their first two matches, 0-1 against Borussia Dortmund and 3-1 against Atletico Madrid.
Two matches from last season’s Belgian league have come under police investigation for match-fixing. On March 3, Antwerp defeated relegation rivals Eupen 2-0 courtesy of a penalty that was awarded following a tackle outside the box. On the last match day of the regular season Eupen pulled off a miraculous 4-0 win, with four goals inside the last 20 minutes, to relegate Mechelen on goal difference.
Prosecutors said agent Veljkovic had contacted referee Delferiere, who was not in charge of either match, and offered benefits in return for favours, such as possibly influencing the suspension proceedings against a player.
In 1988, Mechelen, with Michel Preud’Homme, won the European Cup Winners’ Cup, but the club will now face a battle for survival as its main financial backer Olivier Somers remains in detention.
The scandal has rocked Belgian football. Tonight Belgium host Switzerland in the Nations League in their first home match since achieving a best-ever third place at the World Cup, but the game has been overshadowed by the corruption scandal.
On Wednesday Belgian police raided 44 Belgian clubs and residences across the country, while a further 13 searches took place in France, Luxembourg, Cyprus, Montenegro, Serbia and Macedonia. The scope of the investigation may also have ramifications in Serbia. Local tabloid Kurir reported that former striker Mateja Kezman might have been involved in a €30 million money-laundering scheme.
Belgian prosecutors said on Friday they had charged 19 people, including two soccer referees, soccer agents and the coach of Belgian champions Club Bruges, with fraud or match-fixing.
The offences ranged from criminal organisation to money laundering and corruption, federal prosecutors said.
Nine of the 19 remained in custody, including soccer agents Dejan Veljkovic and Mogi Bayat, charged with having set up schemes to hide fees paid to themselves and to players, and referee Bart Vertenten.
Ivan Leko, the Croatian coach of champions Club Bruges, 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.
His club are playing in Champions League Group A with Atletico Madrid, AS Monaco and Borussia Dortmund.
Of the others charged, a number are officials at clubs KV Mechelen and Waasland-Beveren, who played each other on the final day of the regular season in March.
Prosecutors suspect that match, won 2-0 by Mechelen, and one a week before when FC 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, winner of UEFA’s Cup Winners’ Cup in 1988, did in fact go down.
Three months after the national side reached the World Cup semi-final, the news indicating uncomfortably close ties between agents, soccer 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 soccer clubs targeted were Belgium’s “big three” of Anderlecht, Club Bruges and Standard Liege. The homes of directors, agents, referees and jewellers were also raided.
Mechelen has denied engaging in any illegal practices. Vertenten’s fiancee Hetty Boons told VTM he stood accused of something that he had had nothing to do with.
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 Bruges’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.