France’s star handball player, double Olympic champion Nikola Karabatic, was suspended for six matches on Tuesday, along with six other players accused of betting on a club match suspected of being rigged.
The seven players received the maximum suspension allowed under the national handball league’s (LNH) regulations.
The players, all at the time playing for Montpellier, can carry on playing if they choose to appeal the punishment in the next five days.
Karabatic’s agent said that he would definitely appeal.
“We are surprised by this decision which does not respect the law,” Bhakti Ong said. “Obviously we are going to appeal.”
“The investigating judge’s report said that there is no proof that Nikola Karabatic either directly or indirectly placed bets, but in this case the commission says yes he did,” Ong said. “This really isn’t serious.”
Karabatic, who has played 141 times for France, has strenuously denied placing a bet, although his brother Luka, who was released by the southwest club in the wake of the scandal and now plays for Aix-en-Provence, has admitted betting thousands of euros.
The disciplinary commission announced: “Mladen Bojinovic, Dragan Gajic, Samuel Honrubia, Nikola Karabatic, Luka Karabatic, Primoz Prost and Issam Tej are guilty of having either directly participated or used a third party to bet on the result of the game between Montpellier and Cesson on May 12 last.”
All seven were therefore guilty of “behavior which does not conform with the principles and rules of handball, and a manifest infringement of the values held by the LNH” and were suspended for six matches.
Of the 10 players punished over the scandal only two, Tej and Gajic — who also protest their innocence — remain at Montpellier.
Karabatic, 28, born in Serbia to a Croatian father and a Serbian mother, has joined his brother at Aix-en-Provence.
Nikola and Luka Karabatic and their girlfriends, plus a number of other players and others implicated in the affair, were placed under formal investigation in October last year on suspicion of defrauding state-run betting franchise Francaise des Jeux.
Montpellier, who were already assured of a 13th league title, lost the game 31-28, but suspicions were raised because of large bets placed at halftime on a defeat for the champions.
Additional reporting by Staff writer