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Star in tears at Vietnam match-fixing trial

Eight Vietnamese footballers went on trial on Thursday accused of rigging an under-23 international game in return for cash.

india Updated: Jan 25, 2007 11:01 IST

Eight Vietnamese footballers went on trial on Thursday accused of rigging an under-23 international game in return for cash in a scandal that has gripped this football-obsessed nation.

Hundreds of reporters, fans and relatives of the players packed the Ho Chi Minh City People's Court to hear details of the match-fixing case against the players for allegedly rigging a 2005 game against Myanmar.

Pham Van Quyen, the team's 22-year-old star striker, was in tears at the start of the trial in which he, six team-mates and a former Saigon player who allegedly acted as the middleman for a betting syndicate.

They could all receive lengthy jail terms when the court reaches a verdict, expected by Friday.

Vietnamese football officials hope the high-profile case will help clean up the image of the sport, which has been badly tarnished at home and abroad by a series of corruption scandals.

Prosecutors say the team's vice captain Le Quoc Vuong and alleged middleman Truong Tan Hai, who formerly played for the Saigon Port club, organised the scam with betting kingpin Ly Quoc Ky, who remains at large.

They are accused of offering the players a total of 500 million dong (31,000 dollars) to ensure overwhelming favourites Vietnam beat Myanmar by just 1-0 at the 2005 Southeast Asian Games (SEA Games) in the Philippines.

The other players accused of agreeing to take bribes of 1,250 dollars each -- Le Bat Hieu, Huynh Quoc Anh, Chau Le Phuoc Vinh, Le Van Truong and Tran Hai Lam -- appeared calm during the start of the trial.

Twelve witnesses were scheduled to testify.

All the accused were jailed for several months in 2005, but only Vuong and Hai have stayed behind bars, while the others have been under house arrest and had their passports confiscated.

All are charged with organising gambling, which carries a maximum prison term of 10 years.

Vuong and Hai face additional charges of gambling, which carry two to seven years' jail that would be served consecutively under Vietnamese law.

The court room in the centre of the city formerly called Saigon was packed with about 100 people, including family members, while about 150 more fans and reporters watched proceedings on a video link in a room next door.

Quyen's mother Ho Thi Niem told AFP: "I place my hope in the leniency of the court, to give my son a chance to restart his life."

The striker's laywer, Pham Liem Chinh, said: "We want Quyen to be given freedom soon so that he can return to the football field."

Football gambling is illegal but widespread in communist-ruled Vietnam, where many fans place bets online with syndicates based inside the country or in Hong Kong, Macau and Singapore.

Corruption has also been rampant in the domestic V-League, leading to the arrests of dozens of players and referees in recent years.

A year ago, Asian Football Confederation president Mohammed Bin Hammam urged national football authorities "to do everything possible" to tackle corruption, saying it was "causing untold damage to Asian football."

First Published: Jan 25, 2007 11:01 IST