Updated to reflect UK verdict, 1530: 29 April.
Former English Premier League footballer Delroy Facey has been found guilty of conspiracy to bribe players. Facey had told the court that he was just ‘humouring’ the betting syndicate who had approached him about lower-level matches (two of whom are now serving five years for conspiracy to commit bribery).
But this was just one of many trials and criminal investigations going on around European football… including two quite striking stories in Italy and Greece. It never rains, but it pours.
Perhaps the biggest story comes from Greece, where Olympiacos president and shipping magnate, and alleged undercover press baron, Evangelos Marinakis has been arrested. Matt Scott over at Inside World Football reports that Marinakis:
is among 16 people who are accused of involvement in a match-fixing ring and was charged alongside three referees, three other officials from the Hellenic Football Federation, two members of its Central Refereeing Committee and a fellow Super League club chairman [president of Levadiakos, Yiannis Kobotis]…
Marinakis is accused of being involved in a criminal organisation, of incitement to extortion, of having incited an explosion endangering human life and of the instigation of bribery and corruption aimed at the successful manipulation of football matches offered in betting markets. He denies all four charges.
The trial, due in June, will be a fascinating affair. Last year, The Press Project bravely reported on a largely unreported official report that presented evidence, including wiretap transcripts, of the alleged influence of Marinakis and associates over a whole range of things from political reporting and government decisions to football referee selection and of course match outcomes.
No doubt Olympiacos will be an honourable participant in the 2016 Champions League. Although opponents and referees should perhaps keep in mind the old saying - beware of Greeks bearing gifts.
Meanwhile, criminal processes are at an earlier stage in Italy. Gazzetta del Sud reports that the alleged head of the gang behind years of Italian match-fixing has just turned himself in to police near Bergamo.
Evidence from Hristiyan Ilievski could reignite the possibility of widespread criminal charges, following what have largely been small-scale footballing punishments - most famously, an eventual four-month ban for now national coach Antonio Conte.
Over in Spain, the Zaragoza-Levante trial ticks on. If you’ve only seen headlines about Man Utd’s midfielder Ander Herrera, it’s well worth a look at the investigators’ statement of facts (PDF). This sets out the payments made to a range of Zaragoza players by the club, and the near-immediate withdrawals - listing the individual banks used in each case, among other details.
The trial has largely focused on Levante players thus far, exploring whether or not they may have been recipients of that money, before losing the final game of the season to a Zaragoza side that then stayed up at the expense of Deportivo.
Herrera and other then-Zaragoza players who allegedly received and passed on money will testify later.
[Deportivo - that is, ‘Sporting’ - are presumably biding their time.]
Czech Republic and Turkey
In a quite unrelated piece, one of the leading investigators of match-fixing, Declan Hill, lauded the work of Czech police in January because rather than go after a few players or a referee, they had targeted the top level officials. Hill contrasts this with the situation in Turkey, where political pressures are unpicking some of the successful convictions of high-level officials - latest here.
Fixing the fix
So match fixing it seems is alive and well in the major European football leagues, and beyond - and yet there are precious few rules around financial transparency and football.
Payments can be made, and even clubs owned, through some of the most financially secretive jurisdictions in the world. Betting companies are increasingly high profile as sponsors and more. And criticism of the typically opaque processes for referee selection is growing.
What legal steps are needed, if any beyond political will to go after the often well-connected? Declan Hill notes that there are 60 criminal investigations around the world and counting - so perhaps that’s not the obstacle?
In terms of steps within sport, what could be done to provide some level of transparency and accountability, some bolstering of confidence that the playing field is level?