Kathmandu – Nepal has charged five footballers, including its national captain and goalkeeper, with treason over alleged match-fixing in World Cup qualifiers in 2011, an official said Sunday.
“The government has charged the five footballers arrested last month with treason and has sought a life sentence as punishment,” Bhadrakali Pokharel, Registrar at the Special Court in Kathmandu, which is hearing the case, told AFP.
Skipper Sagar Thapa and goalkeeper Ritesh Thapa were among five players taken into custody last month as part of a coordinated series of arrests in the capital.
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 says that anyone “causing or attempting to cause disorder with the intention of jeopardising 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,” he said.
Police earlier told AFP the footballers 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.
In addition to the skipper and goalkeeper, defender Sandip Rai and former players Bikash Singh Chhetri and Anjan KC were also detained after police uncovered banking transactions between the footballers and international match fixers, including those based in Malaysia and Singapore.
According to investigators, sums ranging from $1,000 to $1,500 had been deposited in the players’ accounts allegedly courtesy of the overseas betting syndicates.
Nepal’s football association suspended the players — including KC, 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 (ANFA) president Ganesh Thapa was forced to step aside last year over allegations that 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, 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.
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.