KEIR RADNEDGE REPORTING —- Belgian prosecutors have charged a FIFA referee and four other people with match-fixing in the top division after an investigation into alleged domestic football corruption.

Four have been charged by a judge with criminal organisation and corruption and a fifth with money laundering. They are agent Dejan Veljkovic, referee Sebastien Delferiere and officials of KV Mechelen and Waasland-Beveren, who played each other on the final day of the regular season in March.

Delferière had been due to referee Saturday’s Nations League match between Georgia and Andorra. UEFA has replaced him with Cypriot Leontios Trattou.

Charged . . . FIFA referee Sebastien Delferiere

None of the five or their lawyers have commented on the accusations set out by prosecutor Wenke Roggen. The charges concern allegations against two agents hiding their fees and other payments, and attemptin to fix the results of two matches last season in a bid to prevent the relegation of Mechelen from the Jupiter League.

In the first suspect match, on March 3, FC Antwerp beat Mechelen’s relegation rivals Eupen 2-0 thanks to a penalty awarded following a tackle just outside the penalty area.

Goal difference

On March 11, the last day of the regular season, Mechelen beat Waasland-Beveren 2-0 but Eupen pulled off a sensational 4-0 victory to overtake Mechelen by dint of a superior goal difference of one.

Mechelen, who won the European Cup Winners’ Cup in 1988, were relegated.

Prosecutors said 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.

Belgian police raided 44 Belgian clubs and residences across the country on Wednesday, while a further 13 searches took place in France, Luxembourg, Cyprus, Montenegro, Serbia and Macedonia. [L8N1WQ2NO]

In Belgium, 29 people have been detained, of whom 22 were to appear before a judge to face charges including criminal organisation, money laundering and corruption. Of four people detained abroad, Belgian authorities have sought extradition for two.

The raids took place on the premises of nine clubs (Anderlecht, Club Bruges, Standard Liege, Ostend, Kortrijk, Lokeren, Genk, Ghent and Mechelen) as well as the homes of six directors, four agents, two referees, two jewellers and of Ivan Leko, the Croatian coach of champions Brugge.

The latter club are involved in Champions League Group A with Atletico Madrid, Monaco and Borussia Dortmund.

Roggen said investigators found packaging for luxury watches worth €8m as well as jewels and cash.

Veljkovic, who is Serbian, and another leading soccer agent, French-Iranian Mogi Bayat, are also charged with having set up schemes to move money out of Belgium to hide fees paid to themselves and to players.

Standard stars banned

The scandal could prove even more damaging than the Standard Liege affaire of the early 1980s.

The investigation was launched at the end of last year in response to a report by the sports fraud unit of the Federal Police, which revealed “indications of suspicious financial transactions”.

This latest scandal threatens to be the largest corruption network uncovered on the continent since the Bochum case which brought match-fixers to trial in Germany for masterminding widespread corruption across lower divisions in central Europe on behalf of illegal internet betting rings.

Peter Limacher, then the head of the disciplinary department of UEFA, described it as the “biggest fraud scandal ever in European football.”

The last major scandal in the Belgian game arose over matchfixing involving Standard Liege in 1982 who approached Thor Waterschei players before the final game of the season which they then won to land the league title.

Subsequently ceo Roger Petit, coach Raymond Goethals and eight senior players (Eric Gerets, Jos Daerden, Walter Meeuws, Theo Poel, Simon Tahamata, Michel Preud’homme, Gerard Plessers and Guy Vandersmissen) were suspended for varying periods.

The punishments deprived Belgium of key members of their team at the imminent European Championship finals in France.