Shame of German football as corruption trial begins

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The Independent Online

The disgraced Bundesliga referee, Robert Hoyzer, appeared before a Berlin court alongsideDominik Marks, a fellow referee, Steffen Karl, a player, and the brothers, Filip, Milan and Ante Sapina, to face charges of illegally netting more than €1m in gambling winnings through match fixing.

Their trial is likely to embarrass the German football authorities. The verdict is almost certain to be announced just as the draw for the country's World Cup gets under way in Leipzig on 9 December.

The six are accused of manipulating the results of German soccer games and running an illegal match fixing and gambling operation. State prosecutors listed a total of 23 games in the German football league, as well as a number of Turkish league matches.

The scandal hit the headlines in January this year when the German Football Association announced that it had launched an investigation into the affair.

Mr Hoyzer, 26, who was banned from German football for life after the association uncovered his involvement in five cases of match fixing, told the judge that he couldn't "understand why I did it".

Mr Hoyzer originally denied the charges against him, but later confessed during police custody. He has since kept a low profile.

The ex-referee's evidence is expected to shed light on the full extent of the match-fixing scandal, which may have involved other European games. His lawyer said he hoped his client's readiness to co-operate would result in him being treated leniently. Full and partial confessions from all but Mr Marks mean that guilty verdicts are likely, although there will be debate about the relative importance of the defendants' roles. All six face jail terms of up to 10 years if convicted.

Mr Hoyzer admitted taking a bribe to fix the result of a cup game between SV Hamburg and Paderborn, a regional league team, in August 2004. Hamburg had been winning 2-0 but went on to lose 2-4 after Mr Hoyzer awarded two penalties to Paderborn and sent off Hamburg's striker, Emile Mpenza.

Mr Hoyzer is suspected of fixing or attempting to fix nine soccer games. He is alleged to have been paid €67,000 (£46,000) in bribes. and to have been given a television for his efforts. He faces 11 charges, including complicity to defraud.

His colleague, Mr Marks is charged with of involvement in five cases of match fixing, while his co-accused Mr Karl, a former Borussia Dortmund and Hertha Berlin midfielder, is charged on five counts with helping to throw the result of matches for financial gain.

The gambling operation behind the match fixing is alleged to have been run by the Croatian brothers from their bar in Berlin. Ante, 29, who faces 42 corruption charges is suspected of being the ringleader.

The court was asked to consider a psychiatrist's report to determine whether he was addicted to gambling. Ante told the court that he had started gambling at 16.

Berlin prosecutors have investigated 25 people in connection with the scandal, including 14 players from lower-league clubs. They have also confiscated €2.44m in assets belonging to the Sapina brothers.

The case continues.