Probe launched into corruption in Romania

January 17, 2008

BUCHAREST, Jan 17 (Reuters) - Romania's anti-corruption prosecuting office (DNA) has launched a criminal investigation into alleged corruption by prominent club officials and player agents.

The 10 under investigation include Rapid Bucharest owner George Copos, Dinamo Bucharest executive president Cristian Borcea and former Romania international Gheorghe Popescu.

'The DNA ... started criminal investigations on charges of fraud, tax evasion and money laundering against prominent officials of Dinamo and Rapid Bucharest, Otelul Galati and Gloria Bistrita, agents Gheorghe Popescu, Victor and Ioan Becali and lawyer Sica Puscoci,' the DNA said in a statement on Thursday.

Rapid Bucharest owner Copos denied any wrongdoing by him or his employees.

'It's stupid to presume such a responsibility in our case,' Copos told reporters. 'I'm fully confident, nobody can touch me.'

Victor Becali said: 'I welcome such an investigation as I have nothing to hide. I will cooperate with the investigators.'

The others under investigation were not immediately available for comment.

The investigation surrounds the transfer of 12 players between Romanian and overseas clubs, including the sale of Cosmin Contra, Paul Codrea, Florin Cernat, Nicolae Mitea and Ionel Ganea.

The Romanian Soccer Federation (FRF) said it would ask for damages after the clubs involved in allegedly illegal transfers abroad failed to pay a special tax required under its rules.

'The FRF will ask in court for around 600,000 euros owed by the four clubs, if they are convicted,' the FRF international department head Florin Prunea said.

It is the first time in the post-communist era that authorities have investigated alleged corruption in the transfer abroad of Romanian players, despite widespread media reports of wrongdoing in the past 18 years.

Former Romania skipper Popescu is under investigation for irregularities over striker Florin Bratu's move from Rapid Bucharest to Galatasaray in 2003, the DNA said.

In 2006, Popescu admitted he had made a mistake and paid $400,000 in tax for the sum pocketed from Bratu's transfer. He resigned as a FIFA agent soon after.

The DNA said it had started the investigation after co-operation with authorities from China, South Korea, the Netherlands, Spain and Italy.