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Major football match-fixing trial begins

Four suspected ringleaders of what is believed to be European football's biggest fraud scandal went on trial in Germany on Wednesday, accused of fixing more than thirty matches across Europe.

Major football match-fixing trial begins
Photo: DPA

The quartet, who have not been named, could be jailed for up to ten years if found guilty of fraud in a trial that will question the integrity of lower league football across the continent.

The trial in Bochum will focus on thirty-two games played in Germany, Belgium, Slovenia, Hungary, Croatia and Switzerland, mostly last season, where it is alleged dozens of players or referees were bribed to influence the matches.

In total, police have investigated nearly three hundred games in fifteen countries in a surveillance operation which has spanned the continent. Bets totalling €2 million ($2.8 million) are said to have been placed on the matches involved, resulting in winnings in the region of €1.6 million.

In Germany, the games in question involve a German Cup match, games in the national league’s second division and regional leagues.

Most of the matches involved are from the lower divisions in the respective countries across Europe, but a Europa League and European Under-21 Championships qualifier have also also come under the spotlight.

In the Europa League, European football’s second biggest domestic tournament behind the Champions League, a Group E match between FC Basel and CSKA Sofia on November 5, 2009, is under suspicion. An Under-21 qualifying international between Switzerland and Georgia on November 18, 2009, will also be part of the evidence against the quartet.

But the German Football Federation (DFB) look to have had their blushes spared as none of the games in question are in the Bundesliga, Germany’s top domestic league, but have said they are keeping a close eye on the case.

“I don’t know what will emerge from this trial, but we will react accordingly,” said the DFB’s referee commisioner Herbert Fandel.

German football still bears the scars of match-fixing after referee Robert Hoyzer was given a two-year jail sentence after it emerged in January 2005 he had rigged a German Cup match.

Hoyzer was initially suspected of betting on the Paderborn-Hamburg German Cup match in which he awarded two dubious penalties and sent a Hamburg player off as Paderborn won 4-2 after a highly controversial game.

But investigations showed Hoyzer had links with a Croatian syndicate and the number of potentially guilty parties, including referees and players, reached a total of 25.

Hoyzer was banned for life by the DFB and the disgraced official claimed that the illegal betting ring went all the way up to European football’s governing body UEFA.

AFP/rm

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ENERGY

How European countries are spending billions on easing energy crisis

European governments are announcing emergency measures on a near-weekly basis to protect households and businesses from the energy crisis stemming from Russia's war in Ukraine.

How European countries are spending billions on easing energy crisis

Hundreds of billions of euros and counting have been shelled out since Russia invaded its pro-EU neighbour in late February.

Governments have gone all out: from capping gas and electricity prices to rescuing struggling energy companies and providing direct aid to households to fill up their cars.

The public spending has continued, even though European Union countries had accumulated mountains of new debt to save their economies during the Covid pandemic in 2020.

But some leaders have taken pride at their use of the public purse to battle this new crisis, which has sent inflation soaring, raised the cost of living and sparked fears of recession.

After announcing €14billion in new measures last week, Italian Prime Minister Mario Draghi boasted the latest spending put Italy, “among the countries that have spent the most in Europe”.

The Bruegel institute, a Brussels-based think tank that is tracking energy crisis spending by EU governments, ranks Italy as the second-biggest spender in Europe, after Germany.

READ ALSO How EU countries aim to cut energy bills and avoid blackouts this winter

Rome has allocated €59.2billion since September 2021 to shield households and businesses from the rising energy prices, accounting for 3.3 percent of its gross domestic product.

Germany tops the list with €100.2billion, or 2.8 percent of its GDP, as the country was hit hard by its reliance on Russian gas supplies, which have dwindled in suspected retaliation over Western sanctions against Moscow for the war.

On Wednesday, Germany announced the nationalisation of troubled gas giant Uniper.

France, which shielded consumers from gas and electricity price rises early, ranks third with €53.6billion euros allocated so far, representing 2.2 percent of its GDP.

Spending to continue rising
EU countries have now put up €314billion so far since September 2021, according to Bruegel.

“This number is set to increase as energy prices remain elevated,” Simone Tagliapietra, a senior fellow at Bruegel, told AFP.

The energy bills of a typical European family could reach €500 per month early next year, compared to €160 in 2021, according to US investment bank Goldman Sachs.

The measures to help consumers have ranged from a special tax on excess profits in Italy, to the energy price freeze in France, and subsidies public transport in Germany.

But the spending follows a pandemic response that increased public debt, which in the first quarter accounted for 189 percent of Greece’s GDP, 153 percent in Italy, 127 percent in Portugal, 118 percent in Spain and 114 percent in France.

“Initially designed as a temporary response to what was supposed to be a temporary problem, these measures have ballooned and become structural,” Tagliapietra said.

“This is clearly not sustainable from a public finance perspective. It is important that governments make an effort to focus this action on the most vulnerable households and businesses as much as possible.”

Budget reform
The higher spending comes as borrowing costs are rising. The European Central Bank hiked its rate for the first time in more than a decade in July to combat runaway inflation, which has been fuelled by soaring energy prices.

The yield on 10-year French sovereign bonds reached an eight-year high of 2.5 percent on Tuesday, while Germany now pays 1.8 percent interest after boasting a negative rate at the start of the year.

The rate charged to Italy has quadrupled from one percent earlier this year to four percent now, reviving the spectre of the debt crisis that threatened the eurozone a decade ago.

“It is critical to avoid debt crises that could have large destabilising effects and put the EU itself at risk,” the International Monetary Fund warned in a recent blog calling for reforms to budget rules.

The EU has suspended until 2023 rules that limit the public deficit of countries to three percent of GDP and debt to 60 percent.

The European Commission plans to present next month proposals to reform the 27-nation bloc’s budget rules, which have been shattered by the crises.

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