High-profile match-fixing trial underway in Spain

Associated Press
NBC Sports

MADRID (AP) Spain’s most high-profile match-fixing soccer trial got underway Tuesday with more than 30 players appearing before a judge.

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Players, coaches and team officials were in court in Valencia to defend themselves in the case involving a top-tier Spanish league game between Levante and Zaragoza at the end of the 2010-11 season.

More than 40 people have been accused, including former Mexico coach Javier Aguirre, who managed Zaragoza at the time.

They potentially face two years in prison and a six-year soccer ban if found guilty.

Among the players accused are Ander Herrera, now with Paris Saint-Germain; former Leicester midfielder Vicente Iborra; former Atletico Madrid captain Gabi Fernandez; River Plate midfielder Leonardo Ponzio; Serbian defender Ivan Obradovic; Lazio forward Felipe Caicedo; and Uruguay striker Cristhian Stuani.

Some of the players have asked not to be in court for the entire duration of the trial, which is expected to last until the end of September.

Lawyers for Zaragoza and some players called for a mistrial on Tuesday because current Spanish league president Javier Tebas was a lawyer to one of the Zaragoza players at the time.

They claimed Tebas broke lawyer-client privilege because it was the league that later made the accusation that led to the trial.

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Prosecutors cited evidence that Zaragoza paid around $1 million to Levante’s players to lose a match to Zaragoza.

Zaragoza’s 2-1 victory in the final round of the season allowed the team to avoid relegation. Levante was already safe.

Prosecutors said the money allegedly given to Levante players was divided among the squad. Prosecutors contend that players in both teams were aware of the match-fixing.

Prosecutors said they found evidence the money was transferred to Levante players after analyzing tax reports and banking transactions at the time. Ahead of the trial, all the defendants denied any wrongdoing.

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.

Even if found guilty, it’s unlikely that those being accused would face actual prison time because sentences of two years or less for first-time offenders are often suspended in Spain.

Zaragoza returned to the second division in 2013-14. Levante is currently in Spain’s top tier.

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