Nepal’s national football captain, goalkeeper and three other players appeared in court on Monday after being charged with treason over alleged match-fixing in World Cup qualifiers for which they are facing possible life sentences.
Skipper Sagar Thapa and goalkeeper Ritesh Thapa were among the five expected to record their statements in court after being taken into custody last month following a series of arrests in the capital.
“We hope the truth will come out,” Thapa told reporters outside the Special Court in Kathmandu, where the case is being heard.
Prosecutors sought life sentences for all five after they were charged on Sunday under a 1989 act against unlawfully jeopardising Nepal’s sovereignty, integrity or national unity.
No media were allowed inside, but the registrar told AFP that the players would record their statements on Monday before the court holds a bail hearing.
Detectives said the arrests came after significant sums of money were found deposited in the players’ bank accounts from suspected match-fixers based in Southeast Asia.
The footballers are suspected of involvement in match-fixing over eight years, including several games played in 2011 as part of Nepal’s unsuccessful bid to qualify for the 2014 World Cup in Brazil.
Officials are investigating several matches including one against Jordan that Nepal lost 9-0 as well as games with Bangladesh and Afghanistan, played as part of a regional competition.
In addition to the skipper and goalkeeper, defender Sandip Rai and former national players Bikash Singh Chhetri and Anjan KC were also detained.
Nepal’s football association suspended the players — including KC, who has been serving as a coach — pending the outcome of the police probe.
The scandal is the latest blow to the Himalayan nation’s sporting reputation after All Nepal Football Association president Ganesh Thapa was forced to step aside last year over allegations he embezzled millions of dollars and accepted bribes during his 19-year tenure.