In moves that will send shockwaves through British football, Bruce Grobbelaar, the South-ampton and Zimbabwe goalkeeper, John Fashanu, the Aston Villa striker, and Hans Segers, the Wimbledon goalkeeper, were accused of conspiring "to give and corruptly to accept gifts of money as inducements to influence the outcome of football matches".
Two alleged accomplices, a Malaysian businessman, Heng Suan Lim, and Mr Fashanu's wife, Melissa Kassamapsi, were also charged. All five were bailed to appear before magistrates in Southampton on 11 October.
The charges represent the most serious match-fixing allegations since 1965, when Peter Swan, Tony Kay and David Layne, all of Sheffield Wednesday and England, were jailed for accepting bribes. If found guilty, those charged yesterday could face up to seven years in jail.
The charges came at the end of an eight-month investigation by Hampshire police following articles in the Sun newspaper which drew from a secretly videotaped conversation between Mr Grobbelaar and Chris Vincent, a former business associate. In it, details of an alleged Malaysian betting syndicate were discussed.
Mr Grobbelaar, 37, and the other players were arrested in dawn raids on their homes in March and were questioned for 30 hours before being released on bail. They were charged yesterday as they surrendered to police bail at Southampton, Fareham and Eastleigh police stations.
A statement released by Hampshire police said: "In London or elsewhere between 1 February 1991 and 15 March 1995 they conspired together and with others known and unknown to give and corruptly to accept gifts of money as inducements improperly to influence the outcome of football matches or as rewards for having so done.
"This is contrary to Section 1 of the Criminal Law Act of 1977. All have been further charged with other specific matters under Section 1 of the Prevention of Corruption Act 1906.
"These alleged offences relate to giving and the receipt of money allegedly for influencing the outcome of football matches ... There are four charges relating to Mr Grobbelaar, two to Mr Lim, two to Mr Fashanu and one each to Mr Segers and Melissa Kassamapsi."
Mr Grobbelaar, who is thought to earn about pounds 125,000 a year, is the best- known of the players charged. He spent 13 seasons with Liverpool and helped the club win numerous trophies, including five league championships and the European Cup, club football's biggest prize.
Last night his solicitor, David Hewitt, said: "From the outset Bruce has denied any involvement whatsoever and he maintains that today."
Southampton said it considered Mr Grobbelaar innocent until proven guilty and would continue to allow him to play. The Football Association in Zimbabwe, where the goalkeeper is considered a national hero, also gave its backing. The FA said it would put its inquiries on hold until after criminal proceedings had finished and it left the players' clubs free to play them if they wished.
As he left Eastleigh police station, Mr Segers, 33, said: "I'm gobsmacked. I had no idea when I came here today that I would be charged and I am very disappointed. Although the police have charged me they have not proved anything and I am totally innocent."
Mr Lim's solicitor, Nicholas Scudamore, said: "Mr Lim strenuously denies any allegations of wrongdoing and he denies the charges that have been made against him. He will continue to vigorously contest the matter in court."
Mr Fashanu, 32, now a presenter of the television series Gladiators, declined to comment. His solicitor, Henri Brandman, said: "My client continues to protest his innocence in the strongest possible terms. He looks forward to clearing his name."
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