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Six charged for match-fixing in Germany

By Philip Blenkinsop
October 18, 2005 16:54 IST
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Two referees, a player and three Croatian brothers went on trial on Tuesday in a match-fixing scandal that has horrified Germany's soccer establishment.

Referees Robert Hoyzer and Dominik Marks and former first division player Steffen Karl are charged with organised fraud for seeking to rig a series of matches from April to December 2004 on instructions from brothers Ante, Milan and Filip Sapina.

"All of the accused wanted to create a continuous and not insubstantial income source through their share of the winnings or payments from Ante Sapina," the indictment said.

It lists 23 games which prosecutors believe the defendants rigged or attempted to manipulate.

They estimate the criminal proceeds at over two million euros, with Ante Sapina allegedly betting 240,000 euros and winning 870,000 on a single match -- a second division game between Karlsruher SC and MSV Duisburg on December 3, 2004.

Hoyzer, dressed in a suit, was surrounded by an army of cameramen as he arrived in the Berlin court building.

The scandal, uncovered at the start of this year, has embarrassed Germany's soccer authorities as the nation prepares to host the 2006 World Cup. It is the worst case of match-fixing in the country for 30 years.

Full and partial confessions from all but one of the defendants -- Marks -- mean that guilty verdicts are likely, defence lawyers say, although there will be debate about the relative importance of the defendants' roles.

The offences could bring jail terms of up to 10 years, although the defence appears hopeful that the confessions and a lack of previous convictions will lead to sentences nearer the one year minimum.

Defence lawyers are also questioning whether the accused were bound together in an organised gang, as the indictment alleges.

The trial is expected to last for at least a month and maybe two. It may still be in progress when the most powerful figures in international soccer gather in Leipzig on December 9 for the gala draw for the World Cup finals.

Soccer, the world's most popular sport, has also been hit by a match-fixing case that recently came to light in Brazil, home of the world champions.

Tuesday's opening session in Berlin's superior court of justice began with a reading of the indictment. The defendants will be offered the chance to speak later.

Unlike in a U.S. or British trial, the accused are not required to plead guilty or not guilty.

Lawyers for Hoyzer and Ante Sapina say their clients will address the court. The two other brothers are expected to make written submissions. It is not clear what Karl or Marks will do.

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Philip Blenkinsop
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