The longest ban ever imposed on a club by UEFA for match-fixing linked to betting scams has been upheld by sport’s highest court.
The years-long case was resolved on Friday after an investigation that implicated a former finance minister of Albania and the Skenderbeu club president, and saw UEFA reveal its staff were subjected to death threats.
The Court of Arbitration for Sport dismissed Skenderbeu’s appeal against a 10-year exclusion from European competitions.
CAS said its judging panel “found to its comfortable satisfaction that Skenderbeu was responsible for match-fixing activities” in domestic and continental matches.
The judges agreed UEFA’s 10-year ban and fine of 1 million euros ($1.13 million) “were proportionate and justified.”
Skenderbeu’s top official, president Ardjan Takaj said he was “shocked” by the CAS verdict.
“I will not abandon Skenderbeu. I will continue the fight. We shall take the case to Switzerland’s Federal Court and we shall receive justice there,” he told Albania’s media website Panorama Sport. “This case surpassed all the limits and the lawyers representing us have taken it as a very personal issue because they were surprised by the unfair decision.”
The club’s appeal was heard in Switzerland in April in relative secrecy after UEFA investigators received death threats during their work.
Using evidence of betting patterns, UEFA investigators found suspected fixing of two Champions League qualifying games and two Europa League group-stage games in 2015.
UEFA also suspected Skenderbeu of helping to fix around 50 domestic matches since 2011.
Skenderbeu won seven Albanian league titles in the past decade.
UEFA previously suspended Skenderbeu from the 2016-17 Champions League as an interim punishment pending a fuller investigation.
That one-year ban was upheld in a previous CAS judgment which revealed details of UEFA’s investigation.
UEFA raised concern about the club’s ties to betting companies, and the influence of Ridvan Bode, a former government finance minister, and club president Ardjan Takaj.
After one Champions League qualifying game against Crusaders, the Northern Ireland club’s goalkeeper wrote about his suspicions on Twitter.
Skenderbeu had a four-goal aggregate lead late in the second leg in Northern Ireland when the quality of its defensive play slumped, allowing Crusaders to score twice and win the game 3-2. UEFA noted the volume of bets placed on late goals to be scored.
UEFA suggested Skenderbeu’s “defending in this final period was a serious concern, with erratic decision making and a lack of effort displayed during the final minutes by several players. This collective defensive effort can only be viewed with serious concern given the betting patterns witnessed during this stage of the match.”
UEFA raised further concerns about a subsequent Champions League qualifying loss against Dinamo Zagreb, and Europa League group-stage losses against Sporting Lisbon and Lokomotiv Moscow. In al,l three games Skenderbeu was not expected to win.
Players were implicated by UEFA who it said gave an “extremely questionable defensive performance.” They included Bajram Jashanica, a Kosovo international defender who UEFA later banned for two years for a positive doping test.
UEFA has described Bode and Takaj as “leading persons of the Albanian club,” which had “links to betting companies by means of sponsors or several individuals.”
The case was a landmark for UEFA in 2016 for proceeding with a prosecution that relied so much on betting patterns as the main evidence, having cited “the lack of active cooperation shown by Albanian authorities.”
The 10-year ban exceeds an 8-year exclusion from UEFA competitions imposed on Pobeda of Macedonia for fixing Champions League qualifying games in 2004.
Skenderbeu placed fourth in the Albanian league last season, and was barred from taking a place in the Europa League qualifying rounds.