Hapoel Kfar saba 88.
(photo credit: )
Former Hapoel Kfar Saba and Hapoel Upper Nazareth goalkeeper Oshri Levy was arrested Tuesday on suspicion he threw soccer matches for gambling gains. Financial Crimes Unit investigators also arrested Bnei Sakhnin goalkeeper Meir Cohen and Hapoel Upper Nazareth owner Avshalom Nuriel on charges ranging from tax evasion to match-fixing.
The arrests were the latest development in a month-old investigation into illicit sports gambling that is threatening the legitimacy of Israel's professional leagues.
Eleven other individuals associated in some capacity with soccer clubs in the North were detained by police early Tuesday.
Last month, five Hapoel Beersheba players were arrested.
Five of the men arrested Tuesday were released during the day. The remands of the six other suspects, including Nuriel and Levy, were extended, police said.
"Levy has never accepted any money and has never taken a bribe," said his attorney, Moshe Ben-Aryeh.
Nuriel's attorney, Yaron Kostelic, said, "Nuriel is answering all the questions he's being asked, and is confident that the investigation will end in nothing. We would like to clarify that the police do not suspect Nuriel of match-fixing."
Bnei Sakhnin said in a statement that management gave Cohen its "full backing" and believed he would be exonerated of all charges.
Ami Azulay, who was released by Hapoel Upper Nazareth on Tuesday, was also remanded by police. Two unnamed men who reportedly play for Bnei Miaotim, a lower league club from the village Yafia in the Carmel area, are also being held.
Police Insp.-Gen. Moshe Karadi recently has said the police planned to cooperate with the Israel Football Association in an effort to eradicate illegal gambling from Israeli soccer.
Weitzman Ya'ar, the IFA's official investigator, produced enough proof to convince IFA chairman Itzhak Menahem to file a criminal complaint against the players.
Despite taking two independent polygraph tests, Levy remained the focus of the investigation. Police said Levy is suspected of intentionally letting in goals.
Tuesday's arrests were the first since Hapoel Beersheba players Yehiel Tzagai, Evyatar Illuz, Miki Attiya, Asi Rahamim and Oz Ifrah were arrested on suspicion they were involved in match-fixing.
Three of the Beersheba players were allegedly given NIS 10,000 and warned not to play too hard. One of the players said he was threatened by a man who stuck a gun to his head.
The three Beersheba players, who have since returned to play for their team, reportedly told police that they were offered the bribes because of that week's unusually large sports lottery of NIS 40 million.
Menahem has since recommended changes to IFA rules so that any player suspected of wrongdoing would be immediately suspended and anyone convicted would be banned from soccer for life.
Jerusalem Post staff contributed to this report.