Judge rules players not guilty in match-fixing case in Spain
MADRID (AP) — The 36 players on trial in Spain's most high-profile match-fixing case were cleared of wrongdoing on Monday.
A Spanish judge issued the “not guilty” verdict, saying there was not enough evidence to convict the players and others on trial — including former México coach Javier Aguirre.
More than 40 people were accused of match-fixing involving the Spanish league game between Levante and Zaragoza at the end of the 2010-11 season.
The judge convicted two former Zaragoza officials of fraud — then-president Agapito Iglesias and club director Javier Porquera. They were given a one-year, three-month prison sentence, although they were not likely to face jail time because sentences of less than two years for first-time offenders are often suspended in Spain.
Those accused were facing two years in prison and a six-year soccer ban.
Among the players on trial were Ander Herrera, now with Paris Saint-Germain; former Leicester midfielder Vicente Iborra; former Atlético Madrid captain Gabi Fernández; River Plate midfielder Leonardo Ponzio; Serbian defender Ivan Obradovic; Lazio forward Felipe Caicedo; Itailan defender Maurizio Lanzaro; and Uruguay striker Cristhian Stuani.
Aguirre was Zaragoza's coach at the time. He was among those who appeared in court to testify.
“I'm very happy for myself and for my family,” Aguirre said in a statement released by Leganés, his current club in Spain. “I always had faith in justice.”
The investigation began after Spanish league president Javier Tebas denounced the alleged match-fixing, saying a former player told him a result had been fixed.
The Spanish league said in a statement it respected the judicial system's decision and it would continue to fight against any type of match-fixing in its competitions.
Prosecutors said there was evidence 965,000 euros (nearly $1 million) was paid to Zaragoza's squad and later transferred to Levante’s players to lose the match in the final round of the season. Zaragoza won 2-1 to avoid relegation. Deportivo La Coruña was demoted as a result.
Former Zaragoza officials said the money was paid to motivate players, not fix the result of the game.
Prosecutors said players on both teams were aware of the match-fixing and there was evidence the money was transferred to Levante players after analyzing tax reports and banking transactions at the time.
The judge said in his ruling “there were was no evidence the money was given to Levante players to lose the match.”
A lower court had shelved the case but it was reopened last year after an appeal by prosecutors in Valencia, where Levante is based and where the match was played.
Zaragoza returned to the second division in 2014. Levante is in Spain's top league.