A massive corruption scandal has engulfed Belgian football as authorities carried out dozens of police raids in the country and around Europe in a vast probe into financial fraud and match-fixing.
A total of 44 police searches took place in Belgium on Wednesday and 13 more in France, Luxembourg, Cyprus, Montenegro, Serbia and Macedonia, according to the Belgian federal prosecutor’s office.
The prosecutor’s statement said a year-long probe into football showed evidence of “suspect financial operations” by sports agents and indications “of possible influencing of games” over the last season.
The judicial investigation concerns “criminal organisation, money laundering and private corruption,” the statement added.
Belgium’s “Big Three” clubs – Anderlecht of Brussels, Standard Liege and Brugge – all confirmed their premises had been searched.
Anderlecht said it was “fully cooperating” with authorities.
Reigning champions Brugge, who play in the Champions League, said their Croatian coach Ivan Leko was also taken in for questioning.
Mogi Bayatein, a well-known agent in Belgium, and a former Anderlecht manager were also interviewed, local media reported.
The unexpected raids and arrests, which Belgian newspaper Het Laatste Nieuws said had shaken Belgian football to its core, come just three months after the country reached the World Cup semi-finals and ended up finishing third at the tournament in Russia.
Along with searches at “various football clubs”, the prosecutor’s office said club committee members, agents, referees, a former lawyer, an accountancy bureau, coaches, journalists and possible accomplices were also under investigation.
The raids, which involved 184 police officials, took place in just about every region in Belgium. Meanwhile, 36 police officials carried out the searches in the other European nations.
Some agents were suspected of hiding commissions on transfers, players’ pay and other payments from the Belgian authorities, the prosecutors said.
It was during the investigation, the prosecutor’s office said, indications appeared there may have been match-fixing during the 2017-18 season.
The Belgian Football Association said it noted the investigation would contribute with “full transparency” if asked to do so.
In a Tweet on Wednesday, Belgium’s Justice Minister Koen Geens said: “Match-fixing undermines the integrity of sports. The Justice Department is working for a fair sport.”