Former vice-president of Croatia's football association (HNS) and ex-international referee Zeljko Siric (photo) was sentenced on Tuesday to four years in prison for match-rigging, state news agency Hina reported, which said that Siric was also banned from working for the HNS for eight years.
"In the world of real soccer he acted as a sovereign ruler of a virtual soccer game", said Zagreb county court judge Gordana Mihaela Grahovac. Siric was arrested in December 2011 and charged with taking bribes to influence refereeing in at least one match in the domestic championship. He was once regarded as one of the best Croatian referees and often took charge of games between bitter local rivals Dinamo Zagreb and Hajduk Split.
Croatia stepped up efforts to crack down on widespread corruption as part of its efforts to join the European Union, which the former Yugoslav republic did in July. In 2010 around 20 players, coaches and managers were arrested for match-rigging in a betting scam. Most of them pleaded guilty and received fines or jail terms.