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Authorities charge 5 in Belgian soccer corruption case

Club Brugge v Istanbul Basaksehir - UEFA Champions League Qualifying Third Round: First Leg

BRUGGE, BELGIUM - JULY 26: Ivan Leko Head Coach of Club Brugge gestures to his players during the Champions League Third Round Qualifier First Leg match between Club Brugge and Istanbul Basaksehir at Jan Breydel Stadium on July 26, 2017 in Brugge, Belgium. (Photo by Andy Astfalck/Getty Images)

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BRUSSELS (AP) Belgian authorities charged five people Thursday in relation to a massive financial fraud and match-fixing probe into soccer.

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Four were charged with belonging to a criminal organization and corruption, while a fifth person was charged with money laundering. Prosecutors said match-fixing allegations centered on the relegation battle from the top division last season and did not involve a major club.

Financial fraud centered on two agents who had contacts with many of the leading clubs, including Anderlecht, Club Brugge and Standard Liege. Accusations center on tax evasion and illegal personal enrichment.

The prosecutor’s office used only the initials of those charged.

Ivan Leko, the coach of Belgian champion Club Brugge, was speaking to investigators along with agents Mogi Bayat and Dejan Veljkovic on Thursday. Two top referees were slated to be interrogated later in the biggest sports scandal in Belgian soccer in decades.

The year-long probe centers on suspect financial operations by sports agents on transfers, including tax evasion, money laundering and private corruption. During the probe, investigators said they also found indications of match-fixing during last season’s relegation battle.

Belgian national team veteran Vincent Kompany said he was not surprised by the developments because the sector has too long been veiled in secrecy instead of openness.

“The thing I don’t get is that, internationally, it has not yet become totally transparent,” Kompany told VTM network.

The Belgian league, in which none of its World Cup stars play, has over the years become a prime market to dump cheap foreign, often African, talent. Only a few of them make it to the major leagues. Claims of human trafficking over the years have increased.

The investigation shows Belgian soccer is unhealthy, Kompany said.

“If you talk about the soccer sector, you cannot be surprised,” Kompany said. “The link with human trafficking, the drug trade and prostitution, where a lot of money goes around, is very close.”

The federal prosecutor’s office announced it would give more details about fraud and match-fixing allegations later Thursday.

The scandal was revealed publicly on Wednesday when authorities carried out 57 police raids in Belgium and around Europe. In all, 44 raids were staged in Belgium and 13 more in France, Luxembourg, Cyprus, Montenegro, Serbia and Macedonia.