A 52-year-old man was arrested in Nicosia in connection with Wednesday’s Belgian police raid on soccer clubs across the country in which the coach of champions Club Bruges, two top agents and others were detained for questioning about financial fraud and possible match-fixing.
A total of 44 searches were carried out at top Belgian clubs and residences, federal prosecutors said in a statement. At the same time, searches of 13 houses also took place in France, Luxembourg, Cyprus, Montenegro, Serbia and Macedonia.
Belgium’s “Big Three” clubs — Anderlecht of Brussels, Standard Liege and Bruges — all confirmed their premises had been searched. Bruges said their Croatian coach Ivan Leko was also taken in for questioning. The club are competing in the Champions League against Atletico Madrid, Monaco and Borussia Dortmund.
The arrest in Nicosia followed a search of the man’s house and three offices he is believed to be involved with in Nicosia and the Famagusta district, following a European Investigation Order, issued by Belgium.
More than 15 police officers participated in the operation in Cyprus in the presence of two Belgian investigators who were on the island to coordinate the raids launched simultaneously in several countries.
The 52-year-old, a European national living permanently in Cyprus, is to be extradited to Belgium.
Police seized from his home and offices two laptops, four computers, two tablets and a large number of documents. The establishments in question are not betting shops, police said.
The search and arrest were “part of investigations launched in Belgium in connection with forgery and circulation of documents, tax evasion and money laundering,” the Cyprus police said. These offences are believed to have taken place mostly in Belgium, but also other EU counties, including Cyprus, between 2012 and 2018.
Belgian prosecutors said the searches were related to an investigation launched at the end of 2017 into suspect financial transactions in the top Belgian league, with possible charges of criminal organisation, money laundering and corruption.
Some agents were suspected of hiding commissions on transfers, players’ pay and other payments from the Belgian authorities, the prosecutors said.
“During the investigation there were indications of possible influencing of matches in the 2017-2018 season,” the prosecutors said.
The searches come after Belgium reached the World Cup semi-finals. Most of the national team squad now play abroad but previously played in the Belgian premier league, which is a major feeder of players for top European club sides.
Some of the house searches were carried out at the homes of club directors, soccer agents, referees, a former lawyer, a trainer, journalists and at an accountancy office.
“A large number of people have been deprived of their liberty and taken in for a thorough interrogation,” the prosecutors said, adding that a judge would later decide who should be held in custody or formally arrested.
The searches abroad were chiefly at offices and residences of people used to set up the suspect transactions, the prosecutors said.