World

Malta player banned for 10 years

Maltese soccer player Kevin Sammut
Kevin Sammut returns from Switzerland after attending a UEFA hearing in Nyon.
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GENEVA (AP)

UEFA acknowledged Monday that its showpiece international competition had been corrupted, as it confirmed a 10-year ban of Kevin Sammut of Malta for helping to fix a 2008 European Championship qualifying match.

Sammut was found guilty of ''breaching UEFA's principles of integrity and sportsmanship'' relating to manipulating results, the governing body of European soccer said in a statement.

The Union of European Football Associations did not specify how Sammut was involved in fixing Malta's 4-0 loss at Norway in June 2007.

Sammut, who has played 37 matches for Malta since his debut in 2005, has denied any involvement in fixing matches. He is currently under contract with Valletta, which represented Malta in Champions League qualifying last month.

The 31-year-old midfielder and two other players were charged by UEFA using evidence gathered by the Malta Football Association. It investigated an allegation made last year by a Croatian crime syndicate member during a match-fixing criminal trial in Bochum, Germany.

UEFA cleared Sammut's teammates, Kenneth Scicluna and Stephen Wellman, because ''the findings of the disciplinary inspector are insufficient to take any disciplinary action against them.''

At a news conference Monday, Malta FA President Norman Darmanin Demajo said there was ''overwhelming evidence'' of a fix involving players and an organized crime gang.

''Match-fixing is a clandestine activity organized by criminals - a reality we must also face in Malta,'' Darmanin Demajo was quoted as saying by the Malta Today website.

However, the Malta he said his organization would not publish details from its dossier on the case.

Sammut's ban prohibits him from any soccer-related activity. UEFA will ask FIFA, soccer's world governing body, to extend the punishment globally.

Sammut can challenge the sanction at UEFA's appeals panel, and then the Court of Arbitration for Sport - though without the support of his national federation.

''He will decide, it is his case,'' MFA general secretary Joe Gauci told The Associated Press by telephone.

The Malta case was based on allegations made by Marijo Cvrtak, a leading member of a Croatian gang headed by convicted match-fixer Ante Sapina.

Cvrtak claimed in the Bochum court that he met three Malta players in their Oslo hotel before the Euro 2008 qualifier who would arrange the fix.

UEFA declined to comment on reports in Malta that Cvrtak attended Sammut's disciplinary hearing held last Friday in Nyon, Switzerland.

In the match, Sammut was substituted at halftime when Malta trailed 1-0. Norway scored three late goals, boosting payouts on potential wagers placed on how many goals would be scored and the margin of Malta's defeat.

The MFA also identified Scicluna and Wellman, who both played the full 90 minutes in Oslo, as being involved in the case.

Malta finished last in its Euro 2008 qualifying group. Norway placed third and failed to advance to the tournament.

In court, Sapina and Cvrtak were said to have made millions in profit by bribing referees, players and officials to help manipulate matches and results. Most wagers were placed in Asian betting markets.

The gang claimed to have manipulated a 2010 World Cup qualifier between Liechtenstein and Finland in September 2009. A Bosnian referee was paid 40,000 euros ($52,000) to ensure two goals would be scored in the second half.

The match was scoreless at half time and ended 1-1, with one goal scored from a penalty kick awarded by the referee, who has since been suspended from soccer for life.

Sapina was convicted on 22 counts of fraud and attempted fraud, while Cvrtak was found guilty on 26 counts of fraud and attempted fraud.

Both were sentenced to 5 1/2 years in jail, though their prison terms were reduced because of time served in custody awaiting trial.

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