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Belgian soccer is facing a massive corruption probe

Club Brugge's Hans Vanaken looks dejected after conceding a goal during a UEFA Champions League match against Atletico Madrid on Oct. 3. (Sergio Perez/Reuters)

BRUSSELS — Belgium’s top soccer league is being investigated over allegations of corruption, organized crime and match fixing, Belgian authorities confirmed Thursday.

Belgian police launched 44 raids Wednesday and Thursday, according to a statement by the country’s Federal Public Prosecutor’s Office, searching the offices of nine soccer clubs as well as numerous houses in Belgium and across Europe. Among the clubs are the country’s biggest team, RSC Anderlecht, the 2017-18 champions, Club Brugge, and other high-profile names.

Five people were charged in the case Thursday — four for “criminal organization” and corruption, and a fifth for money laundering.

Authorities think that one of the agents under investigation — he is not named in court documents — colluded with a referee to fix the results of two games at the end of last season in an attempt to keep one club, KV Mechelen, from dropping out of the country’s top league to a lower division. In exchange for favorable results, the agent allegedly helped the referee get an important discount to buy a car.

The first agent and a second agent are also suspected of having created schemes to illegally boost their own profits.

According to the public prosecutor’s office, the investigation has been going on since late last year.

The Royal Belgian Football Association, the country’s soccer governing body, said in a statement Thursday afternoon that it accepts that the public prosecutor’s office has to investigate the case, but the organization declined to comment further.

One of Belgium’s biggest stars, Vincent Kompany, said he was not surprised by the allegations.

“If you talk about the soccer sector, you cannot be surprised,” said the defender, who plays for Manchester City in England’s Premier League, during an interview on Belgian TV. “The link with human trafficking, the drug trade and prostitution, where a lot of money goes around, is very close.”

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