Manchester United Ander Herrera has denied any wrongdoing after it emerged that he may stand trial over an alleged match-fixing scandal.
The 28-year-old Spaniard has been warned that he faces being ordered into the witness stand with 33 other footballers including Atletico Madrid midfielder Gabi over a ‘suspect’ May 2011 match between his former club Real Zaragoza and Levante.
Herrera issued a statement on Wednesday saying: ‘As I stated back in 2014 when this issue was raised, I have never had and never will have anything to do with to do with manipulating match results.
‘If I am ever called to testify in a judicial hearing, I will be delighted to attend as my conscience is totally clear. I love football and I believe in fair play, both on and off the pitch.’
Zaragoza’s then manager Javier Aguirre also faces trial along with others including the club’s former sporting director Antonio Prieto and its ex-owner Agapito Iglesias.
The trial, seen as a certainty in Spain, is expected to be at least six months away. Respected regional newspaper Las Provincias claimed the 42 people involved could face prison sentences ranging from six months to four years if convicted. Prison sentences of less than two years for first-time offenders normally end up being suspended.
The bombshell news comes after a U-turn by Valencia-based investigating judge Isabel Rodriguez. Last July she archived a long-running probe into Zaragoza’s 2-1 away win which kept them in La Liga.
The investigation was reopened by Valencia’s Provincial Court on January 25 following an appeal by state prosecutors and Deportivo La Coruna, the club relegated as a result of Zaragoza’s win.
Reports in Spain say the main basis for the reopening of the case is the £848,450 Zaragoza paid into the accounts of Aguirre, Prieto and nine of their players days ahead of the May 21, 2011 match – and the scarce use Levante players made during the following weeks of their credit card and bank accounts.
El Pais said investigators suspect the Zaragoza players returned the cash deposited in their accounts to club managers so it could be passed on to the Levante players.
It reported anti-corruption prosecutor Alejandro Luzon named Herrera as the recipient of two cash sums of £44,000 and £35,000.
When she archived the case last year, Isabel Rodriguez said the existence of the bank transfers was ‘indisputable’, but insisted she felt the evidence put forward by prosectors was not enough to consider the match had been fixed.
She said at the time the only certainty was that Zaragoza players and the then manager and sporting director had received money whose end use was unknown.
The same judge has now finalised her probe, having been ordered to reconsider her shelving of the case last summer, and prepared the way for trial by concluding proceedings should continue in a higher criminal court.
Spain’s equivalent of the Crown Prosecution Service will now have 10 days to lodge a formal accusation against 36 players including Herrera and Zaragoza’s ex-manager and sporting director and formally request the opening of trial proceedings.
Although defence lawyers can then appeal, the logical outcome would be for the trial to take place.
Las Provincias suggested criminal charges would be brought under section 286.4 Bis of Spain’s Penal Code, which covers sport corruption.
Spanish radio station Cadena Ser said: ‘There will be a trial and we will see all the players that were called up to play the match between Zaragoza and Levante that was allegedly fixed, being ordered to take the witness stand.’
No-one was immediately available at Real Zaragoza, the club where midfielder Herrera began his career before moving to Athletic Bilbao in 2011 and then to Manchester United in 2014, or at Levante.
BACKGROUND TO THE CASE INVOLVING HERRERA
The judicial investigation into alleged match-fixing over the May 2011 Levante-Zaragoza match began in January 2015.
Investigating magistrate Isabel Rodriguez provisionally archived her probe last summer, but was asked to reconsider her original ruling last month after an appeal was lodged with a higher regional court.
She has now concluded that she feels there could be grounds for a trial – and paved the way for state prosecutors to formally accuse those under investigation of wrongdoing in a written indictment and request the opening of trial proceedings.
Defence lawyers for those accused could launch a counter-appeal but it would be unlikely to succeed.
Predictions are that it will ‘five to six months’ before the trial date is known.
Any trial would take place in public, with all the accused including the footballers having to attend.
Judicial investigations in Spain like this one into alleged match-fixing take place behind closed doors in Spain and can take years to complete.
Trials are the only part of the judicial process that are open to the press and public under Spanish criminal law and are normally much shorter than in the UK.
Formal charges against suspects are only normally laid just before trial.
Investigating magistrates – judges who carry out pre-trial criminal probes – are a feature of the French and Spanish legal systems but do not exist in England.
From Dailymail Sport