SAO PAULO — Brazil will launch a national investigation into soccer match-fixing and the probe could have “international repercussions,” Justice Minister Flavio Dino said Wednesday.
Dino’s announcement follows a request from the Brazilian country’s soccer confederation amid a sprawling state investigation that led local clubs and Major League Soccer’s Colorado Rapids to suspend several footballers from its activities.
The probe of the state of Goias initially targeted matches from last season in Brazil’s top flight, but has expanded into second-division matches. Prosecutors said some of the athletes were paid between 50,000 and 100,000 Brazilian reals ($10,000 to $20,000) to get booked or give penalties to their rivals.
Brazil’s justice minister said on Twitter that the country’s federal police will open a probe “due to the evidence of match-fixing in sports events, with inter-state and international repercussions.”
After Dino’s announcement, MLS said in a statement that one player it did not identify had been suspended from club activities due to reports on his alleged involvement with unlawful sports gambling.
The decision came hours after newspaper O Globo reported that Brazilian midfielder Max Alves of the Colorado Rapids had been named in the probe. The Colorado Rapids confirmed in a statement that the suspended footballer is a member of their squad, but did not identify him either.
Alves has not made comments about the case.
Earlier, Brazil’s Athletico said on its social media channels that 20-year-old left-back Pedrinho and 22-year-old midfielder Bryan Garcia had been suspended “preemptively” until the end of the investigation by prosecutors in the state of Goias.
Cruzeiro, Fluminense and America made the same decisions about 29-year-old midfielder Richard, 23-year-old defender Vitor Mendes, and 37-year-old right-back Nino Paraiba, respectively.
Coritiba said late Wednesday it had reached the same decisions about two of its players who were also reportedly named in the probe: 28-year-old striker Alef Manga and 29-year-old midfielder Jesus Trindade. A lawyer for both players denied they had any involvement in the scheme.
None of players have responded to a request for comment from The Associated Press. They also haven’t commented on social media.
Brazilian media raised concerns about the performances of many of those players in matches from the 2022 season, and added they could be targets of the “Maximum Penalty” probe that began in February.
Internacional said in a statement that midfielder Mauricio will not play against Athletico in a Brazilian Serie A match later on Wednesday after local media linked him to the scandal. The club from Porto Alegre also said it trusts the player, who denied any wrongdoing, and added that he will continue in its squad.
Prosecutors did not confirm to the AP that these players are under investigation.
But state prosecutors reported in a statement that 16 people will stand trial in the case, including seven other players.
One of the players on that list, Santos defender Eduardo Bauermann, was suspended by his club on Tuesday.
The AP had access to the case against Bauermann and other players, in which he shows knowledge about the scheme and involvement in it. The prosecutors’ evidence alleges that the Santos defender not only exchanged text messages offering up match-fixing but also suggested in November he could bring in two of his teammates to help the scheme.
“We are all upset; me, the squad, the journalists,” Santos coach Odair Hellmann said about Bauermann during a press conference after his team beat Bahia 3-0 in a Brazilian top-flight division match on Wednesday. “We have to see him as role model of what not to do.”
The Brazilian soccer confederation (CBF) said in a statement it had asked the government to investigate so it can “centralize all the information about the cases under investigation.”
The soccer body added “there is no possibility” that the nation’s top-flight division would be suspended, arguing that it “is also a victim of those possible criminal acts,” and urging that “the punishment of athletes and other members of the fraudulent scheme takes place in vehement fashion.”
“I am working with FIFA and other international bodies, besides clubs and Brazilian federations, with the intent of fighting every kind of crime, fraud or wrongdoing in soccer,” CBF chairman Ednaldo Rodrigues said in the statement. “I defend the preemptive suspension (of players) based on concrete suspicions and even the ban from sport in proven cases.”