VIENNA — Criminal investigators interrogated 20 current and former footballers in Austria on Thursday for their alleged involvement in fixing at least 17 league matches, including nine in the country's top-flight division, since 2004.
Investigators said they had their sights on about 10 more suspects and five people were held in custody, while house searches were conducted in Vienna, Lower-Austria, Carinthia and Salzburg.
The betting fraud likely involved "millions of euros," chief investigator Andreas Holzer said.
"It's hard to calculate the exact amount. It has been substantial," Holzer said. "The betting was rather on half-time scores or penalties than on final results."
Without identifying the players questioned, investigators said they obtained a list with 26 footballers' names on it from two Albanian men, who were arrested last week for allegedly coordinating the fixing. In line with Austrian privacy laws, the men were only identified as 51-year-old Ilir N. and 42-year-old Arben T.
All first-division games under suspicion include either Kapfenberg or Groedig —both former clubs of Dominique Taboga, who was arrested Wednesday for his alleged attempt to manipulate games after he claimed former international Sanel Kuljic had talked him into match-fixing to settle a personal debt.
Holzer said investigators had no evidence that the clubs involved were aware of the manipulation attempts by their players.
Taboga has admitted he tried to persuade four teammates at Groedig to fix games last season. Taboga and the club parted ways by mutual consent after the defender's confession two weeks ago. Taboga is also under suspicion of stealing 5,000 euros ($6,700) from team funds.
Three of the 17 matches being investigated were played this season, with the most recent being Groedig's 2-2 draw with Rapid Vienna on Nov. 10. In what turned out to be his last match for the club, Taboga gave away a penalty in the 85th minute that earned the visitors a late equalizer coming back from 2-0 down.
The day after the match, Taboga filed charges, claiming he was forced to pay Kuljic nearly 30,000 euros ($40,200) and was threatened by the retired Austria international after refusing to prevent Groedig from winning matches.
Kuljic was arrested in a parking lot in Anif near Salzburg on Nov. 12 while waiting for Taboga, expecting the player to hand over 3,000 euros ($4,020).
Prosecutors said Kuljic has denied the alleged attempt at match-fixing, adding that Taboga still owed him money from the time they both played at Kapfenberg in the first half of 2012. Kulic said he lent his then teammate 65,000 euros ($87,100) for home furnishings.
The national football federation and the Austrian Bundesliga said in a joint statement that they are fully cooperating with the ongoing investigations.
"As soon as we have access to the results of these investigations, we will initiate action," the statement read. "It should be clear that any wrongdoings will have to be severely punished."
The federation said it immediately suspended a coach who was working at its football academy in the province of Vorarlberg after the man was also interrogated as one of the suspects.