German court sentences Croat in match-fixing case

A Croat and two co-defendants have been convicted of fraud by a

German court for their part in what has been described as Europe’s

biggest match-fixing scandal.

Ante Sapina, who has a previous conviction for match-fixing, was

sentenced to 5 1/2 years in prison on Thursday. He confessed to

fixing more than 20 matches, including a World Cup qualifying game

and several matches in the top European club competitions.

”You knowingly accepted a distortion of competition, you are an

enemy of sport,” prosecutor Andreas Bachmann said in his final

argument earlier Thursday of Sapina.

His co-defendant, Marijo Cvrtak, was also convicted and

sentenced to 5 1/2 years in jail. A third man, Dragan Mihelic of

Slovenia, was given a suspended sentence of 18 months.

Judge Wolfgang Mittrup, in handing down the verdict, said Sapina

and his co-defendants ”shamefully destroyed the enthusiasm of many

fans.”

According to normal German judicial practice, none of the men

have been officially identified, but their names have been

published in the media.

Sapina and Cvrtak manipulated more than 20 games, including the

2010 World Cup qualifier between Liechtenstein and Finland in

September 2009, when the referee was bribed.

Sapina testified that he traveled to Sarajevo to meet with a

Bosnian referee and arrange for the otherwise meaningless World Cup

qualifying match to be fixed.

In exchange for ?40,000 ($52,000), referee Novo Panic agreed to

make sure two goals would be scored in the second half. The match

ended in a 1-1 draw with both goals coming in the second half.

According to Sapina, one of the goals was the result of a clearly

incorrect penalty decision.

Panic and another referee contacted by Sapina have been

suspended for life by UEFA, the governing body of European

football.

Other manipulated games include a Champions League qualifier

between Debrecen of Hungary and Fiorentina of Italy and several

Europa League matches, as well as games in domestic leagues in

Germany, Switzerland, Austria, Belgium, Turkey, Hungary, Slovenia,

Croatia and Canada.

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 men earned more than ?2.3 million ($3.28 million) each by

betting on manipulated games, mostly in Asian betting outfits.

Sapina has already served 17 months in investigative custody,

which will be deducted from the sentence. He was freed on bail in

April. Cvrtak has been in custody for 18 months.

Sapina was found guilty of fraud in a similar match-fixing case

involving German referee Robert Hoyzer in 2009 and sentenced to 35

months in prison.

Three other man also have been convicted by the Bochum court and

were sentenced in April to prison terms ranging between three years

and 11 months and three years.