Sports Integrity Initiative: French handball suspects found guilty of illegal betting

The 16 suspects accused of fixing a top tier handball match between French sides Montpellier and Cesson in May 2012 have been found guilty for their involvement in or involvement in illegal betting according to Le Monde. Amongst those convicted are the French handball star, Nikola Karabatic, and his younger brother Luka Karabatic. On Friday the Criminal Court of Montpellier reportedly ordered Nikola Karabatic to pay a fine of €10,000. According to reports the prosecutor had requested a three-month suspended sentence and €30,000 fine.

The AFP reported that fines between €1,500 and €30,000 were imposed against the 16 defendants, which include six current or former Montpellier handball players as well as the Karabatic brothers, who were both playing for Montpellier at the time. One of the defendants Mladen Bojinovic was ordered to pay the highest fine of €30,000 while Luka Karabatic, a professional handball player PSG Handball, was given a fine of €15,000. The AFP reported that a court official had said that no prison sentences were handed out.

According to Eurosport France Nikola Karabatic, speaking outside Montpellier’s Criminal Court on the first day of the trial, said that he would only comment ‘after the trial’, but that he would stick to his version of events whereby he denied having placed any bets on the match in question. By the time of the match, which Montpellier lost 31-28, Montpellier had already secured the French title. Karabatic told 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.

In its 81-page judgment, seen by the French paper Le Monde, the court reportedly said that there were ‘elements’ which ‘established’ that Nikola Karabatic ‘knew that Montpellier would lose at halftime.’ According to the court documents, there was enough evidence to show that Nikola Karabatic was in contact with other members of the team contrary to what he maintained and even though he did not play, he participated in the scheme conducted by his girlfriend. The court reportedly said that Karabatic’s girlfriend did not have a detailed understanding of French handball and that it was unthinkable that she would have taken the risk without an informed understanding of the game or without Karabatic’s knowledge.

French media reported that Michael Corbier, a lawyer for the Karabatic brothers, had said that the convictions were something which he found ‘extremely severe’ and that they would be appealing the sentences. He told media that he did not find the sentences mild because they had expected an acquittal. He continued that even if the brothers had been ordered to pay €1 in damages that they would have appealed.

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.

In its judgment the court reportedly accepted a civil action by the FDJ, which was reimbursed the amount of affected earnings lost, totalling just under €200,000. However the civil action reportedly launched by MAHB for more than €1.2 million for non-pecuniary damage was declared inadmissible.

• This article was originally published in the Sports Integrity Initiative internet journal on 13 July 2015. To access the original, please click here.

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