News 16 June 2015

Start of French Handball Match-Fixing Trial

The match-fixing trial of 16 suspects accused of fixing a top tier handball match between Montpellier and Cesson in May 2012 started in Montpellier on Monday. One of the 16 suspects includes the French double Olympic handball gold-medalist Nikola Karabatic, who has also won three World Championships with France. At the time the alleged match-fixing took place Karabic played for Montpellier. He now plays handball for FC Barcelona Handbol.

According to AFP, Karabatic’s brother Luka, also a professional handball player currently playing for PSG Handball, and Nikola’s partner Geraldine Pillet, as well as six current or former Montpellier handball players are amongst those accused. The French broadsheet Le Monde has listed the names of all 16 suspects accused of fraud or of being complicit in fraudulent practices as: Luka Karabatic, Nikola Karabatic, Samuel Honrubia, Mladen Bojinovic Dragan Gajic, Issam Tej, Mickaël Robin, Primoz Prost (all Montpellier handball players at the time), Yann Montiege (Montpellier physiotherapist at the time), Jennifer Pray (Luka Karabatic’s girlfriend at the time), Geraldine Pillet (a ‘companion’ of Nikola Karabatic) Di Guardo Enzo (a friend of the Karabatic brothers), Nicolas Gillet (a friend of Mladen Bojinovic and Dragan Gajic), Giuseppe Palombo (a friend of Mladen Bojinovic and manager of a pizzeria where the players of Montpellier frequented), Ayoub Shah (close to Samuel Honrubia) and Chokri M’Rassi (a friend of Issam Tej).

In May 2012, following the match in question, the Montpellier Agglomération Handball (MAHB) issued a statement saying that it was astonished by the information provided by Française des Jeux (FDJ), the body which oversees the national lotteries and betting. FDJ said that the game had been subject to a number of abnormally high bets and was under suspicion, enough so to justify an intervention by the ‘competent authorities’ for online sports betting. At the time, MAHB accused FDJ of making premature assertions which injured MAHB’s image as well as their sporting and commercial partnerships and was irresponsible to all of French professional handball. The French public broadcaster, RFI, reported that following FDJ’s observations it had contacted detectives who, having also received an anonymous tip-off, initiated a police investigation.

17 people were consequently indicted in February this year for their alleged involvement in fixing a handball game (as reported by the Sports Integrity Initiative), with the trial itself starting yesterday. Eurosport France reported that Nikola Karabatic, speaking outside Montpellier’s Criminal Court, said that he would only comment ‘after the trial’ as well as confirming that he would be sticking to his version of events whereby he denied having placed any bets on the match in quesetion. Karabatic did however tell reporters that his girlfriend had placed a bet on the Montpellier – Cesson match, but justified her actions on the grounds that she followed the team closely and made an informed bet based on the team’s past performance.

Lawyers for the 16 defendants spoke to Eurosport France following the first day of the trial in which they’d contested all legal information and had sought to throw out the entire case on the grounds of procedural irregularities. Jean-Robert N’Guyen Phung, one of the lawyers for the Karabatic brothers, allegedly told reportsers that he did ‘not know whether the game was rigged, but the judicial inquiry – it is rigged’. Eurosport France reported that the defence have complained that the investigating judge presided over ‘meetings outside procedure’ and attempted to ‘destabilise’ the trial. If found guilty the defendants could face up to five years in prison and be liable to a fine of up to €375,000.

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