Top Belgian FIFA referees investigated in corruption scandal

Police carried out raids in seven countries on Wednesday as Belgian prosecutors targeted the country's biggest football clubs as part of an investigation into fraud and match-fixing. Top referees Sebastien Delferiere (photo) and Bart Vertenten are also speaking to police amid claims of match fixing, according to De Standaard. Belgian referee boss Johan Verbist follows the investigation of the federal prosecutor's office: "I am currently following everything through the media, so I cannot confirm the news", said Verbist. “I have not yet been able to contact the referees whose names are being circulated, and if they have actually been picked up, it is logical that they cannot answer any phone calls”.
A total of 220 police officers carried out 44 house searches across Belgium as well as in France, Luxembourg, Cyprus, Montenegro, Serbia and Macedonia, Belgian prosecutors said. "A great number of persons have been deprived of their liberty and taken in for a thorough interrogation", said a statement from investigators. Federal prosecutors told AFP that the arrests included well-known football agent Mogi Bayat, the former manager of Sporting Charleroi, who had been arrested in his home. Bayat, a 44-year-old Belgian-Iranian, was the main target of the probe, Belgian media reports said, along with another agent, Dejan Veljkovic, and clubs with which they did business. Club Brugge coach Ivan Leko, whose team is playing in the Champions League, was also arrested on Wednesday. The headquarters of Club Brugge, Standard Liege, Anderlecht and KRC Genk, the current leader of the Belgian Premier League, were searched in the operation. "During the investigation there were indications of possible influencing of matches in the 2017-2018 season", the prosecutors said. Some of the house searches were carried out at the homes of club directors, soccer agents, referees, a former lawyer, a trainer, journalists and at an accounting office. The searches abroad were chiefly at offices and residences of people used to set up the suspect transactions, the prosecutors said. "I am asking for full transparency and cooperation from the football world to this investigation," said Philippe Muyters, Belgium's sports minister. "The athletes and especially the numerous supporters are entitled to a fair sport", he said.