Fri, Oct 03, 2008 - Page 19 News List

Zenit deny bribery allegations

SCANDALOUS A newspaper reported that the head of a Russian underworld gang and a cohort said that they had bought last season’s UEFA Cup semi-final and final

AFP , MADRID

Zenit St Petersburg on Wednesday denied the UEFA Cup was won dishonestly and are considering legal action against media that reported a Russian criminal gang arrested in Spain issued bribes.

The gang said they used tens of millions of euros in bribes to “buy” the trophy won by Zenit St Petersburg last season, beating Scotland’s Rangers 2-0 in the May final.

Zenit had also beaten favorites Bayern Munich 4-0 in their semi-final second leg match.

The Russian club said on their Web site: “The play performed by Zenit footballers in the matches against Rangers and Bayern gave the best possible proof that those wins were achieved in honest and uncompromising style. The rumors published in those media sources defame all of the named clubs.”

The statement added Zenit lawyers were studying the media coverage and would be deciding whether to take legal action to defend the club’s reputation.

The newspaper ABC said Gennadios Petrov, head of a powerful Russian underworld gang, and one of his cohorts said they used between 20 million euros (US$28 million) and 40 million euros to “buy” the semi-final and the final, according to a telephone conversation intercepted by Spanish police.

Spanish police launched an investigation, but have been unable to determine if the gang had contacted players and officials from Bayern and Rangers or if the two were merely bragging.

The newspaper El Pais said that Petrov, in a taped telephone conversation, “said that 50 million had been paid to Bayern. He did not say if it was dollars, euros or roubles, but that the figure was correct.”

A judicial source and the interior ministry decline to comment on “an ongoing investigation.”

UEFA, european soccer’s governing body, said it planned to investigate.

“When there are rumors of this type, our members of the disciplinary committee handle them and we are going to look at this closely,” UEFA spokesman William Gaillard said.

In Germany, Bayern Munich said in a statement it had “no knowledge of such suspicions. We are going to try and obtain all the information about this affair.”

El Pais said top Spanish judge Baltasar Garzon had asked German prosecutors to help with an investigation.

It was Garzon who in June ordered the police operation that led to the arrest of around 20 people, including Petrov, and broke up the Tambovskaya-Malyshevskaya gang, one of the largest Russian underworld networks in the world.

Authorities also froze bank accounts containing a total of 12 million euros.

The gang, which has its origins in St Petersburg, used Spain as a base for its top leaders and for money-laundering its gains from illegal activities in Russia and other former Soviet states, according to police.

It was not clear from the reports how the gang planned to benefit from offering the bribes.

But El Pais said the investigation showed that Petrov, who was arrested at a luxurious villa in Majorca, “had interests in Zenit” and in soccer in general.

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