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By ESPN Staff

Six on trial in German soccer bets scandal

BERLIN -- Two German referees, a player and three Croatian brothers went on trial on Tuesday in a match-fixing scandal that has horrified Germany's soccer establishment.

Referees Robert Hoyzer and Dominik Marks and former first division player Steffen Karl are charged with organized fraud for seeking to rig a series of matches from April to December 2004 on instructions from brothers Ante, Milan and Filip Sapina.

"All of the accused wanted to create a continuous and not insubstantial income source through their share of the winnings or payments from Ante Sapina," prosecutor Thorsten Cloidt told the court, reading out the formal indictment.

He listed 23 games which prosecutors believe the defendants rigged or attempted to manipulate in a scam which allegedly netted them more than two million euros ($2.4 million).

Ante Sapina is accused of betting 240,000 euros and winning 870,000 on a single match, a second division game between Karlsruher SC and MSV Duisburg on Dec. 3, 2004 which Duisburg won 3-0 with Marks refereeing.

In another match, Hoyzer awarded regional league side Paderborn two penalties as they came from two goals down to knock out first division Hamburg SV in the first round of the German Cup. He also sent off Hamburg striker Emile Mpenza.

Ante Sapina made more than 750,000 euros from Paderborn's 4-2 victory, according to the indictment.

All but two of the 23 matches were all-German encounters. The exceptions were a friendly between Hansa Rostock and English side Middlesbrough, and a Turkish first division match between Galatasaray and Ankaragucu in April 2004 which two of the brothers allegedly tried and failed to rig.

The scandal, uncovered at the start of this year, has embarrassed Germany's soccer authorities as the nation prepares to host the 2006 World Cup. It is the worst case of match-fixing in Germany for 30 years.

The trial is expected to last for at least a month and maybe two. It may still be in progress when the most powerful figures in international soccer gather in Leipzig on Dec. 9 for the gala draw for the World Cup finals.

The largest bets were placed with German bookmaker Oddset, but some were also lodged with agencies in Britain, Austria, Malta and Italy.

Ante Sapina, the accused ringleader, appeared agitated at times as the charges were read. Hoyzer, dressed in a suit, was surrounded by an army of cameramen as he arrived. He carried two large files and a bulging attache case into the courtroom.

Full and partial confessions from all but Marks mean that guilty verdicts are likely, defence lawyers say, although there will be debate about the relative importance of the defendants' roles.

Convictions could mean up to 10 years' jail, but the defence appears hopeful that the confessions and a lack of previous convictions will lead to sentences nearer the one year minimum.

The defence also questions whether the accused were bound together in an organized gang, as the indictment alleges.