Australian police have charged six men in an operation to smash a "multi-million dollar" matchfixing ring involving several British players and centred on a second-tier club in Melbourne.
The charges follow the arrests of 10 people across Melbourne on Sunday as part of an investigation into the 12-team Victoria Premier League.
Football Federation Australia (FFA) had said nine players and a coach from the Melbourne-based Southern Stars had been arrested and police said on Monday "many" of those were British and playing in Victoria in the off-season.
Three men had appeared at an out-of-sessions court hearing late on Sunday, police said. The police statement also said that Gerry Gsubramaniam, 45, had been charged with "five counts of engaging in conduct that corrupts or would corrupt a betting outcome or event or event contingency and five counts of facilitating conduct that corrupts or would corrupt a betting outcome or event or event contingency".
He was remanded to appear at the Melbourne Magistrate's Court later on Monday. Detective acting senior sergeant Scott Poynder told the hearing Gsubramaniam had received payment for giving Southern Stars players information on how games were to unfold, the Australian Associated Press (AAP) reported. "He is the contact point," the agency quoted Poynder as telling the hearing.
"He receives phone calls. "He is given advice on how the Southern Stars players are to perform." Five other men, ranging from 23 to 36 years of age, had been charged with multiple counts of betting-related corruption charges and would appear in court on Friday, police added.
Those charged could face sentences of up to 10 years in prison if found guilty of matchfixing. Four other men had been released pending further enquiries, the police statement said. 'BIG BONUS' AAP quoted Southern Stars President Ercan Cicek as saying a man had approached his club with the offer of providing players to the club who would play "for free".
"Our committee members are thinking, 'Oh beautiful, five players for free, we're not going to pay anything, it's a big big bonus,'
AAP quoted Cicek as saying. Cicek said the Stars' coach had also given his services for free this season. "We (were) never thinking about (the) betting side or the other side, (that) he's going to take money somewhere," Cicek said.
"We were thinking about only our club, what's the advantage for our club?" When contacted by Reuters on Monday Cicek said he did not know the names of any players arrested and declined to comment on the case. He said the team would release a statement later on Monday.
With one round left to play in the regular season, the Southern Stars are bottom of the competition with one win, four draws and 16 losses. The Stars' solitary win was over the competition's current leaders Northcote City last month. Police estimated betting winnings in Australia and overseas in relation to the case at more than A$2 million ($1.85 million).
Football Federation Victoria, the governing body of the league, said it was "shocked" by the case. An FFA spokeswoman said she had only become aware of the case when contacted by an Australian newspaper on Sunday.
"We have been told by Victoria Police that no other club (in the Victorian Premier League) is involved in matchfixing," the spokeswoman told Reuters.
In February, the Australian Crime Commission (ACC), the country's top criminal intelligence agency, released an incendiary report into "widespread" doping in Australian sport and local athletes were at risk of being co-opted into matchfixing by organised crime syndicates. ($1 = 1.0820 Australian dollars)
(Editing by Peter Rutherford)