China’s former football players face graft trial

BEIJING: China put four former players from its national football squad on trial Wednesday for fixing a domestic league match as a crackdown on rampant corruption in Chinese football neared its end game.

Nan Yong, the former head of the Chinese Football Association (CFA), was also put on trial for taking bribes, the state Xinhua news agency said, a day after proceedings opened against his predecessor Xie Yalong on similar charges.

The trials mark the culmination of a campaign to root out entrenched graft in the Chinese game that has ensnared dozens of CFA and club officials, referees, and players accused of match-fixing, gambling and other misdeeds.

Exposed two years ago, the scandal has combined with the national squad’s poor performance to repel Chinese fans, undermining the popularity of the game in the world’s most populous country.

Xinhua said the players facing justice in a court in the northeastern Chinese city of Shenyang included two key performers on the Chinese national side that qualified for the 2002 World Cup finals, Qi Hong and Jiang Jin.

The pair are accused, along with their former national squad teammates Shen Si and Li Ming, of taking bribes to fix a 2003 domestic league game in which their team, Shanghai Guoji, lost 2-1 to Tianjin Teda, Xinhua said.

“The result sent their crosstown rival Shanghai Shenhua to the league title and prevented Tianjin from being relegated,” it said.

The agency quoted unidentified sources as saying the four players received bribes totaling eight million yuan ($1.3 million). Xie and Nan, who were both arrested in 2010, are the highest-ranking officials yet charged.

Xie, 56, was tried in a court in the northeastern city of Dandong on 12 counts of accepting bribes that totalled more than 1.7 million yuan ($275,000), Xinhua said.

His lawyer said Xie pleaded guilty but alleged being tortured during investigations to extract a confession.

“Xie Yalong told the court he was tortured and that what he said before was false,” attorney Jin Xiaoguang told AFP.

“As a lawyer, I call on the court to investigate the torture of Xie.”

State media reported Monday that Xie’s defence requested that his earlier confessions be thrown out, alleging that they were obtained through torture including electric shocks and beatings. Jin said it was not known when a verdict would be issued.

Meanwhile, Nan faced trial in the city of Tieling on “multiple” counts of bribe-taking, Xinhua said.

As vice chairman of the CFA at the time, Nan was “instrumental” in China’s qualification for the 2002 World Cup finals thanks in part to his hiring of Serbian coach Bora Milutinovic despite opposition to the move, Xinhua said.

China was sent packing in the first round without even scoring a goal.

Officials at the various courts declined to comment to AFP or could not be reached.

Also being tried Wednesday in Dandong was Li Dongsheng, former head of the CFA’s referees committee, Xinhua said.

He faced charges of taking bribes on 30 occasions worth a total of more than 790,000 yuan and 11 counts of embezzling a total of 60,000 yuan, he said.

A court in February sentenced former CFA deputy chief Yang Yimin and former referees director Zhang Jianqiang to more than a decade in jail each for accepting bribes.