Croat admits guilt in German bets scandal - Wednesday 19th of October 2005

A Croatian man admitted his guilt on Tuesday in a two million euro German match-fixing scam that has deeply embarrassed soccer authorities preparing to host next years World Cup.

"Regarding the charges in the indictment, I wish to say that they are essentially true," Ante Sapina, 29, told a Berlin court after prosecutors accused him of leading a criminal betting gang that rigged, or tried to rig, 23 matches.

Together with his brothers Milan and Filip, German referees Robert Hoyzer and Dominik Marks and former first division player Steffen Karl, he is charged with organised fraud in Germanys biggest match-fixing scandal for 30 years.

"All of the accused wanted to create a continuous and not insubstantial income source through their share of the winnings or payments from Ante Sapina," prosecutor Thorsten Cloidt told the court.

Among the catalogue of charges, Sapina is accused of betting 240,000 euros (164,000 pounds) and winning 870,000 on a single match, a second division game between Karlsruher SC and MSV Duisburg on December 3, 2004 which Duisburg won 3-0 with Marks refereeing.

In another match, Hoyzer awarded regional league side Paderborn two penalties as they came from two goals down to knock out first division Hamburg SV in the first round of the German Cup. He also sent off Hamburg striker Emile Mpenza.

Ante Sapina made more than 750,000 euros from Paderborns 4-2 victory, according to the indictment.

The largest bets were placed with German bookmaker Oddset, but some were also lodged with agencies based in Britain, Austria, Malta and Italy.

Ante Sapina, facing 42 charges, told the court Oddset initially blocked paying out the winnings after the Paderborn match and invited him to a meeting.

"They wanted to know if I was betting alone. They wanted to see if another bookmaker was behind me," Sapina said.

AWKWARD TIMING

The scandal, uncovered at the start of this year, has embarrassed Germanys soccer authorities as the nation prepares to host the 2006 World Cup.

The trial is expected to last for at least a month and maybe two. It may still be in progress when the most powerful figures in international soccer gather in Leipzig on December 9 for the gala draw for the World Cup finals.

Sapina admitted his guilt in a long, animated personal statement in which he described his fascination with gambling since the age of 16. He said his first big "breakthrough" came in 2000 when he doubled his money by betting on Bayern Munich to win the German championship.

The Croats lawyers have submitted a psychiatric report suggesting Sapina is addicted to gambling and are expected to use this to plead for a lesser punishment.

Hoyzer, the main focus of German media attention in the case, arrived smartly dressed in a three-piece suit and was instantly surrounded by a swarm of cameramen.

He carried two large files and a bulging attache case into the courtroom and made extensive notes on the trials opening day. He is expected to give his version of events from Thursday or next Tuesday after Ante Sapina has concluded his testimony.

Full and partial confessions from all but Marks mean guilty verdicts are likely, defence lawyers say, although there will be debate about the relative importance of the defendants roles.

Convictions could mean up to 10 years jail, but the defence appears hopeful that the confessions and a lack of previous convictions will lead to sentences nearer the one year minimum.

The defence also questions whether the accused were bound together in an organised gang, as the indictment alleges.

All but two of the 23 suspect matches were all-German encounters. The exceptions were a friendly between Hansa Rostock and English side Middlesbrough, and a Turkish first division match between Galatasaray and Ankaragucu in April 2004 which two of the brothers allegedly tried and failed to rig.

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