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September 25, 2017

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Malta player found guilty by UEFA of match fixing, receives lifetime ban

GENEVA -- UEFA banned Malta international Kevin Sammut from soccer for life on Monday after finding him guilty of helping fix a European Championship qualifying match in a betting scam.

UEFA said its appeals panel upheld the governing body's own request to increase Sammut's 10-year ban to a lifetime sanction.

Sammut denies colluding with a Croatian-led match-fixing syndicate in June 2007 to help manipulate Malta's 4-0 loss in Norway in a Euro 2008 qualifier.

His lawyer, Michael Sciriha, said the former Maltese player of the year could appeal to the Court of Arbitration for Sport after UEFA provides the detailed verdict.

"We have to wait for the reasoned decision, then we will make a decision," Sciriha told The Associated Press by telephone. "We are very disappointed that after a six, seven hours hearing, they (the appeal panel) came to a decision after 15 minutes."

The appeal hearing last Friday was required after both sides challenged the 10-year ban imposed on Sammut by UEFA's disciplinary panel in August.

The 31-year-old midfielder sought to clear his name. UEFA requested a lifetime ban to prevent him ever coaching or working in the game, and will ask FIFA to extend his punishment worldwide.

UEFA has not specified how it believes Sammut — who was substituted at halftime when the score was 1-0 — actively helped corrupt the match in Oslo, nor what evidence it used to convict him.

UEFA said Monday that it could not provide details of the case, in part "because the written grounds for the decision have not been sent to the player yet."

In August, Malta Football Association President Norman Darmanin Demajo said there was "overwhelming evidence" of a fix connecting players to an organized crime gang.

The plot was originally detailed last year during a criminal trial in Bochum, Germany, by Marijo Cvrtak, an associate of convicted match-fixer Ante Sapina.

Cvrtak claimed that he met three Malta players in their Oslo hotel who would arrange the fix.

Norway, then ranked No. 36 in FIFA's world rankings, was in contention to qualify for Euro 2008 and heavily favored to beat No. 117 Malta. Three late goals boosted payouts on potential bets such as how many goals would be scored and the margin of Malta's defeat.

Sammut's teammates, Kenneth Scicluna and Stephen Wellman, who both played the full 90 minutes, were also charged by UEFA but cleared.

UEFA declined to comment Monday on reports in Maltese media that the governing body used Cvrtak and Sapina as witnesses for its prosecution.

In the Bochum court, they were said to have made millions in betting profits by bribing referees, players and officials to help manipulate matches and results.

Cvrtak was found guilty in May 2011 on 26 counts of fraud and attempted fraud and sentenced to 5 1/2 years in jail. Sapina, who was previously jailed in a 2005 German refereeing scandal, received the same sentence.

Sammut is still listed as a squad member on the website of Malta's champion club Valletta. He was an unused substitute when Valletta was eliminated in the Champions League qualifying rounds in July by Serbian club Partizan Belgrade.

He signed a five-year deal with Valletta in 2009 after impressing with former club Marsaxlokk.

In the 2007-08 season, which began weeks after the alleged corruption in Norway, Malta league players voted Sammut as their player of the year.

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