Police raid 44 homes in seven countries in Belgian football probe
Police carried out raids in seven countries on Wednesday as Belgian prosecutors targeted the country's biggest football clubs as part of an investigation into fraud and match-fixing.
A total of 220 police officers carried out 44 house searches across Belgium as well as in France, Luxembourg, Cyprus, Montenegro, Serbia and Macedonia, Belgian prosecutors said.
"A great number of persons have been deprived of their liberty and taken in for a thorough interrogation," said a statement from investigators.
Federal prosecutors told AFP that the arrests included well-known football agent Mogi Bayat, the former manager of Sporting Charleroi, who had been arrested in his home.
Bayat, a 44-year-old Belgian-Iranian, was the main target of the probe, Belgian media reports said, along with another agent and clubs with which they did business.
Club Brugge coach Ivan Leko, whose team is playing in the Champion's League, was also arrested on Wednesday, a source close to the investigation said.
The headquarters of Club Brugge, Standard Liege, Anderlecht and KRC Genk, the current leader of the Belgian Premier League, were searched in the operation, the source added.
At Standard Liege, according to a report in the daily Le Soir, police seized contracts involving players Obbi Oulare, Michel Preudhomme and Dino Arslanagic that were all linked to Bayat.
Club Brugge and Anderlecht said they will fully co-operate with the investigation.
"Club Brugge has nothing to hide," chairman Bart Verhaeghe told the daily De Morgen.
Anderlecht "gives its full co-operation and makes no further comments", said spokesman David Steegen.
Suspicion of match-fixing emerged during the fraud investigation, with a focus put on matches played in the 2017-2018 season, prosecutors said.
The house searches outside Belgium were mainly connected to the suspect transfer schemes, they added.
"I am asking for full transparency and co-operation from the football world to this investigation," said Philippe Muyters, sports minister from Belgium's Dutch-speaking Flemish region.
"The athletes and especially the numerous supporters are entitled to a fair sport," he said.
Bayat and his brother Mehdi are both major players in the Belgian football scene, an ascent that began when their uncle bought the Charleroi football club in 2000, local reports said.
Belgium's national squad top the Fifa rankings and finished third at this year's World Cup in Russia, but its national league is considered second-tier.
Top Premier League star Kevin De Bruyne of Manchester City rose up at Genk, while Manchester United's Romelu Lukaku was a young star at Anderlecht.