By Constantinos Psillides
CYPRUS is one of the worst countries in Europe when it comes to match-fixing, European watchdog Federbet General Secretary Francesco Baranca said on Friday, wanting to speak to whistleblower referee Marios Panayi on his allegations regarding match fixing in the country’s top league.
Baranca told the Cyprus Mail that Federbet had kept a close eye on Cyprus matches for some time.
“We are closely monitoring the situation on the island because of the many irregularities when it came to betting. It is clear to us that there is a deep problem. From the data we gathered, we can safely assume that something is wrong,” said the Federbet official, adding that the 34-year-old ref is worthy of praise for having the courage to step forward.
“Panayi is a brave man and we think he should be congratulated,” Baranca noted.
Federbet, a Belgium-based match-fixing watchdog is now looking into interviewing Panayi regarding his claims. What Panayi says to Federbet will probably be reflected in the watchdog’s annual report on match fixing in Europe.
In a report issued in June, Federbet placed Cyprus and Bulgaria at the top of the suspected match-fixing list when it came to the top league.
On Wednesday, Panayi caused an uproar within the football community when he gave a press conference claiming that he had recordings, documents and other evidence proving that members of the Cyprus Football Association (CFA) were fixing matches, in particular those deciding which team would be relegated to the second division.
Panayi identified CFA deputy head Giorgos Koumas as the man behind the curtain, stressing that if he was not removed from the picture, then professional football in Cyprus was a lost cause.
Three days into the match-fixing scandal, Koumas has yet to officially respond to Panayi’s allegations.
Meanwhile, the international referee continued his marathon statement to police investigators for the second day. Panayi spoke to investigators for five hours on Thursday and for five and a half hours on Friday.
Attorney-general Costas Clerides asked to be fully briefed on Panayi’s statement on Friday, according to the Cyprus News Agency (CNA), requesting a copy of it as soon as it was ready.
Even if Legal Services doesn’t bring the case to court – at his conference Panayi said he had recorded conversations, which may not admissible in court – the international referee said that he has a “plan B”, hinting that he might leak them to the media himself.
According to a police source, Panayi named sports officials and politicians as being involved in the match-fixing scandal.
Panayi had previously called on the leaders of the three main parliamentary parties, DISY, AKEL and DIKO to publicly declare whether they or their representatives had secret meetings with CFA members. All parties have rejected the accusations, demanding that the case be thoroughly investigated.