Bochum: Around 200 football matches in nine European countries including at least three Champions League games are implicated in a new match-fixing scandal, German prosecutors said on Friday.
UEFA expert Peter Limacher told a press conference in Germany that the revelations represented "clearly" the worst ever match-fixing scandal in European football, as the governing body vowed tough sanctions for those involved.
The suspect matches took place in Germany, Belgium, Switzerland, Croatia, Slovenia, Turkey, Hungary, Bosnia-Hercegovina and Austria, netting criminals several million euros (dollars) in betting profits, prosecutors believe.
They include 12 matches this season from the Europa League, formerly known as the UEFA Cup, one qualifying game for the under-21 European championship and four from the German second division.
European football`s governing body said it had actively been involved in the probe and monitoring the suspicious betting patterns.
"UEFA will be demanding the harshest of sanctions before the competent courts for any individuals, clubs or officials who are implicated in this malpractice, be it under state or sports jurisdiction," UEFA General Secretary Gianni Infantino said in a statement.
UEFA said it would give details of the matches later, but the 15 at European level involved early qualifying round games, while the rest were under the jurisdictions of national football associations.
Police carried out around 50 raids on Thursday in Germany, Britain, Switzerland and Austria, arresting 15 people in Germany and two in Switzerland. More than one million euros in cash and property were seized.
A network of some 200 people is suspected of influencing matches and placing bets on them with bookmakers in Europe and Asia. Prosecutors have reason to believe that players, coaches, referees and officials were offered bribes.
Two of those arrested in Thursday included two Croatian brothers living in Berlin, Ante and Milan Sapina, who were at the centre of a match-fixing scandal that rocked Germany in 2004, newspapers said.
Harald Stenger, a spokesman for the German Football Federation (DFB), said on Thursday: "As far as the DFB knows, no German matches are affected."
But prosecutors are scrutinising 32 matches in Germany, including two in the second division, three in the third, 23 games in regional leagues and two under-19 clashes.
German daily Sueddeutsche Zeitung reported that one of the games being investigates was a friendly between German side SSV Ulm against Fenerbahce Istanbul in July.
The Turkish side won 5-0, and investigators suspect that "certain currently unidentified SSV Ulm players" received more than 10,000 euros (14,900 dollars) each to throw the game, the paper said.
Ulm`s manager Markus Loesch told Bild. "Looking at how the game panned out, I can`t see how it (throwing the game) could have happened," Loesch said.
The team`s goalkeeper Holger Betz agreed: "At the beginning we had two good chances. After the first goal, it was all over. We could have lost by an even greater margin."
Reports also said that the ring was believed to have placed enormous bets with Asian bookmakers, where limits on the sums that punters can gamble as as much as 30,000 euros (45,000 dollars), much higher than in Europe.
The 2004 German scandal saw referee Robert Hoyzer sentenced to two years and five months behind bars after admitting receiving almost 70,000 euros (104,000 dollars) and a plasma television from a Croatian mafia ring to throw games.
The matches concerned were mainly in the German second and third division, but a German Cup match between first division SV Hamburg and third division Paderborn and a first division match in Turkey were also affected.
Hoyzer was released after serving half of his sentence. Ante Sapina was jailed for two years and 11 months, while his brother Milan escaped with a suspended sentence.