Stiff sentences dished out in betting trial

BERLIN - Three men involved in Europe's biggest illegal betting scandal were sentenced by a German court on Thursday to up to three years and 11 months in prison for trying to fix matches and bribe players.

Several more suspects are on trial after a 2009 German police operation unearthed a Europe-wide ring with more than 200 suspected members who fixed or tried to fix about 200 matches across the continent, including three in the Champions League.

More verdicts against the other defendants, including the alleged ring leaders, one of whom was also convicted in the 2005 German refereeing scandal, are expected in May.

European football's governing body UEFA at the time had called it the biggest betting scandal in Europe.

The court in Bochum found guilty the three defendants, who admitted during the six-month trial to bribing players and betting on what they thought were fixed matches, and handed out sentences ranging from three years to three years 11 months.

The prosecutor Andreas Bachmann, who demanded sentences of four years or more, had called them "enemies of sport" in his closing statements on Wednesday.

Initial estimates of the ring's illegal gains had put them at about 10 million euros but court officials said the figure was just "the tip of the iceberg".

Further investigations also implicated German lower league players who have been banned after admitting taking bribes.