(photo credit: )
Former referee Yochanan Chibotero was sentenced to three years in prison by the Tel Aviv Magistrate's Court on Sunday for fixing a series of Israeli soccer matches between 1997 and 2000.
Chibotero, who also received an additional suspended two-year prison sentence and an NIS 30,000 fine, admitted accepting bribes from illegal gamblers and participating teams.
"When a soccer referee damages the integrity of the matches he disrupts the world of competitive sports," Judge Dan Mor wrote in the verdict. "Without fair refereeing there is no value to the match. I have no doubt that the game of soccer goes far beyond the realms of entertainment and recreationâ€¦ the success of a soccer fan's favorite team is an integral part of his life."
Chibotero was convicted on four different counts of receiving bribes.
In December 1997 the former referee accepted a bribe of NIS 10,000 to ensure that at least two goals would be scored in a National League match between Maccabi Kiryat Gat and Hapoel Ramat Gan.
Less then a year later, in September 1998, Chibotero was paid to fix a game between Maccabi Netanya and Maccabi Kfar Kana in the Toto Cup so that three or more goals would be scored.
A few months later he approached state witness and former referee Moshe Atias and told him that he would like to receive money for fixing the National League match between Ahi Nazareth and Betar Beersheba. The game ended in a 2-0 Nazareth win and Chibotero got his share of the winning bet.
The former referee also admitted to fixing a match between Maccabi Acre and Hapoel Ashkelon in the National League in May 2000 so that Acre would win.
The match finished in a 7-0 Acre win and once again Chibotero received a large sum of money. Chibotero's attorney Dan Koel disputed the judge's decision. "The punishment is exaggerated and disproportionate and doesn't take into consideration the fact that the offenses were committed almost 10 years ago," Koel said on Sunday. "We will appeal to the district court. The level of interest by the public and media dramatically affected the verdict."
Chibotero was originally indicted along with the six other men connected with the "referees in red" match-fixing scandal - Sabi Elnekave, Barik Tachsin, Haim Mirovski, Yariv Ma'atuk, Meir Amsili and Ori Biton.
Amsili and Biton pleaded guilty to the charges and received a one year suspended prison sentence. A verdict has yet to be handed down in Tachsin's and Mirovski's trial while Ma'atuk, who received a one-year suspended prison sentence, was a state's witness in the Chibotero case.
"It's a severe punishment, but the crime is also severe and damages the integrity of sport," IFA Chairman Itzhak 'Iche' Menahem said on Sunday. "The IFA and the referee union are constantly working to make sure such incidents don't occur again."