Nepal’s national football captain, goalkeeper and three other players charged with treason appeared in court Monday and denied any involvement in alleged match-fixing in World Cup qualifiers, an official said.
Skipper Sagar Thapa and goalkeeper Ritesh Thapa are among five players who recorded their statements in court after being taken into custody last month following a series of arrests in the capital.
“While recording their statements, the players denied any involvement in match-fixing and proclaimed their innocence,” Bhadrakali Pokharel, Registrar at the Special Court in Kathmandu, which is hearing the case, told AFP.
Prosecutors sought life sentences for all five after they were charged on Sunday under a 1989 act against unlawfully jeopardising Nepal’s sovereignty, integrity or national unity.
No media were allowed inside, but Pokharel told AFP each player spoke for about half an hour before the court moved to begin a bail hearing.
The bail hearing will continue on Tuesday, he said, adding that no further details of the players’ statements would be released until the court arrived at a decision.
– Latest blow –
Detectives said the arrests came after significant sums of money were found deposited in the players’ bank accounts from suspected match-fixers based in Southeast Asia.
In addition to the skipper and goalkeeper, defender Sandip Rai and former national players Bikash Singh Chhetri and Anjan KC were also detained.
Nepal’s football association suspended the players — including KC, who has been serving as a coach — pending the outcome of the police probe.
A physiotherapist, Dejiv Thapa, was also charged with treason in absentia, Pokharel said.
According to the charge-sheet seen by AFP, Thapa received at least $1,000 from Malaysian footballer and suspected match-fixer, Kesavan Pattan.
“The government has filed a charge-sheet against Dejiv Thapa… (but) he is not in the country. His name has been added to a list of absconders,” Pokharel said.
The six men 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 the 2014 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.
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 he embezzled millions of dollars and accepted bribes during his 19-year tenure.
The ethics committee of football’s world governing body FIFA launched an investigation last year into Thapa, whose brother Kamal is Nepal’s Deputy Prime Minister. The outcome to that inquiry is still pending.
FIFA has itself been rocked by a series of corruption scandals and allegations in recent months, leading to the suspension of its president Sepp Blatter.
Nepal is currently ranked 190 in FIFA’s world rankings and has already been knocked out of the qualifiers for the 2018 World Cup in Russia after losing a two-leg qualifier to India 2-0.