German court overturns match-fixing sentences

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Associated Press

Posted on December 20, 2012 at 6:01 AM

Updated Thursday, Dec 20 at 6:06 AM

BERLIN (AP) — A German court ordered a partial retrial for two Croatian men found guilty in a match-fixing scandal that rattled Europe's soccer establishment and sparked prosecutions across the continent.

Ante Sapina and Marijo Cvrtak were sentenced to 5½ years in prison last year for their part in the manipulation of more than 20 games that included a qualifying match for the 2010 World Cup. The men earned millions from bets on the fixed matches.

Prosecutors complained that the verdict by a regional court in the western city of Bochum didn't adequately consider the seriousness of the fraud committed by the men, and argued that Sapina's deeds should be considered organized crime. Sapina's lawyer, meanwhile, claimed that the Bochum court didn't properly credit his client's cooperation with authorities, which should have led to a reduced sentence.

Germany's Federal Court of Justice in Karlsruhe agreed with the complaints and sent the case back to the lower court on Thursday. In particular, the Bochum court will now have to decide whether the two men's actions constituted attempted or actual fraud, and what financial damages were suffered by people who placed bets on the fixed games. The retrial is unlikely to completely reverse the guilty verdicts but could lengthen or shorten the sentences the men will have to serve.

One of the games manipulated by Sapina and Cvrtak was 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 $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 soccer.

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.

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