Nepal has charged five soccer players, including the national team’s captain and goalkeeper, with treason over alleged match-fixing in FIFA World Cup qualifiers in 2011, an official said on Sunday.
“The government has charged the five footballers arrested last month with treason and has sought a life sentence as punishment,” said Bhadrakali Pokharel, the registrar at the Special Court in Kathmandu, which is hearing the case.
Nepal captain Sagar Thapa and goalkeeper Ritesh Thapa were among five players taken into custody last month as part of a coordinated series of arrests in Kathmandu.
Detectives said the arrests came after investigations found significant sums of money deposited in the players’ bank accounts from suspected match-fixers based in Southeast Asia.
“The footballers were found involved in match-fixing ... accepting money to lose matches,” Pokharel said.
Pokharel added that they were charged under a 1989 act, which states that anyone “causing or attempting to cause disorder with the intention of jeopardizing Nepal’s sovereignty, integrity or national unity, shall be liable for life imprisonment.”
“The Special Court will record the players’ statement tomorrow and hold a hearing on whether to grant them bail or keep them in custody,” Pokharel said.
Police said the players are suspected of involvement in match-fixing over a period of eight years, including several games played in 2011 as part of Nepal’s unsuccessful bid to qualify for last year’s World Cup in Brazil.
Officials are investigating several matches, including one against Jordan that Nepal lost 9-0 as well as games with Bangladesh and Afghanistan, played as part of a regional competition.
In addition to the captain and goalkeeper, defender Sandip Rai and former players Bikash Singh Chhetri and Anjan K.C. were also detained after police uncovered banking transactions between the players and international match-fixers, including those based in Malaysia and Singapore.
According to investigators, sums ranging from US$1,000 to US$1,500 had been deposited in the players’ accounts allegedly courtesy of overseas betting syndicates. Nepal’s soccer association suspended the players — including K.C., who was serving as a coach — pending the outcome of the police investigation and vowed to hold their own inquiry into the allegations.
The scandal is the latest blow to the Himalayan nation’s sporting reputation after All Nepal Football Association president Ganesh Thapa was forced to step aside last year over allegations that he embezzled millions of US dollars and accepted bribes during his 19-year tenure.
FIFA’s ethics committee last year launched an investigation into Thapa, a former Asian Football Confederation vice president and brother of Nepal’s Deputy Prime Minister, Kamal Thapa. The outcome to that inquiry is still pending.
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