German police raid homes of referees over match-fixing allegations

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ONE OF the worst scandals in Germany's sporting history took a dramatic turn yesterday, when police raided the homes of three senior football referees suspected of match-fixing and claimed that investigations were leading to the very top of the national game.

At least 25 referees and players are now believed to be implicated in the scandal, which broke last week after the Robert Hoyzer, a referee, admitted rigging matches and accepting payments from a betting ring linked to the Croatian mafia. State prosecutors said they were considering charges of illicit and organised deception against the suspects. The scandal has astounded senior German football figures and is a serious embarrassment to the country that will host the 2006 World Cup. Franz Beckenbauer, who is leading the German World Cup hosting arrangements, described the affair as a "disgrace."

Yesterday's raids focused on the home of the First Division referee Jurgen Jansen, who is alleged to have fixed a game between the Kaiserslautern and FC Freiburg teams in November last year. The match resulted in a 3- 0 victory for Kaiserslautern. Mr Jansen denied all the allegations. The possible involvement of a bundesliga referee in the affair marked a turning- point. Football officials had insisted the scandal was limited to German second division clubs and lower.

As outrage across Germany grows, the German football association is under pressure to suspend all referees named in connection with the scandal and to prohibit them from officiating at games this weekend. German politicians have also demanded that guilty referees be banned from football for life.

Other referees, whose homes were searched, included Felix Zwayer, Domink Marks and Wieland Ziller, an adviser to referees. The homes of 14 players were also investigated. Three Croatians have already been arrested in connection with the scandal.

The 25 players and referees under suspicion, are believed to have fixed at least 10 German second division soccer games and to have won millions as a result of bets. The players include members of the second division club SC Paderborn who have already confessed to involvement in match-fixing. The others include members of the second division clubs, Energie Cottbus, Chemnitz FC and the prestigious Dynamo Dresden.

Last Friday, police raided the scene of the illicit betting transactions, Cafe King, a sporting pub-cafe in the Berlin district of Charlottenburg. The owners, a Croatian family, are believed to have earned a minimum of Û2.44m (pounds 1.68m) from match-fixing. Police have seized property and assets, mostly in luxury cars, in case of compensation claims.

The match-fixing already admitted was remarkably brazen. In a Hamburg SV and Paderborn match, Hoyzer said he had sent off one Hamburg player and awarded Paderborn two penalties to complete the fix. Hamburg had been leading 2-0 but went on to lose 4-2 and the team's manager Klaus Topmoeller was later sacked as a result. Hoyzer has issued a statement in which he claimed he "profoundly" regretted his actions and wished to apologise. He was reported to have agreed to name the names of players and other referees involved in the scandal.

The subsequent disclosures were thought to have prompted yesterday's police raids. Hoyzer, who now fears retribution from members of the Croatian match-fixing gang, is in hiding at a secret address in Germany's Ruhr region.

He faces a maximum 10-year prison sentence if convicted, but his lawyer Stephan Holthoff-Pfortner indicated yesterday that his client was banking on his sentence being reduced because he intended to act as a key witness. Prosecutors are also said to be investigating 40 gambling companies and 300 betting offices across Germany.