UEFA verdict based on testimony of self-confessed criminal – lawyer
Cvrtak was ‘vague and ambiguous’
Former Malta midfielder Kevin Sammut has not given up his fight against the lifetime ban he received from UEFA for match-fixing as he is appealing his conviction and sentence with the Lausanne-based Court of Arbitration for Sport (CAS).
In August, Sammut, 31, was suspended for 10 years by UEFA’s Control and Disciplinary Body but the UEFA Appeals Body extended the ban to a lifetime one in November over his alleged involvement in the plot to rig the Euro 2008 qualifier between Norway and Malta.
Norway won the game 4-0 after scoring three goals in the last 18 minutes.
In confirming that Sammut has lodged an appeal with CAS after receiving the written decision of the UEFA Appeals Body on January 13, lawyer Lucio Sciriha, a member of Sammut’s legal team, expounded on the key points of the case which predominantly revolves around the testimony of convicted Croatian fraudster Marijo Cvrtak.
“On August 17, Sammut was given a 10-year suspension by UEFA’s Control and Disciplinary Body,” Dr Sciriha told The Times.
“We appealed that decision and so did the UEFA disciplinary inspector. At the appeal hearing, we were not allowed to present our witnesses. UEFA decide which witnesses were relevant to the case.
“We had proposed that our witnesses be allowed to testify via video teleconference or that the original hearing be held in Malta but our request was turned down by UEFA.
“It was not financially possible for Kevin Sammut to pay for his witnesses to travel to Switzerland for the UEFA hearing.”
The probe into allegations that Cvrtak had met four Malta players at an Oslo hotel to fix the Euro 2008 qualifier against Norway, was carried out by the MFA’s Integrity Office. Following the conclusion of the MFA inquest, a UEFA disciplinary inspector travelled to Malta in April for further investigations.
“The testimony of the MFA officials at the appeal hearing was discarded by the UEFA Appeals Body as it was mostly based on hearsay,” Dr Sciriha said.
“During the MFA investigations, as well as those of the UEFA disciplinary inspector, the members of the MFA contingent for that game said they saw nothing wrong and harboured no suspicions about Sammut.
“Sammut’s room-mate during that trip, (goalkeeper) Justin Haber, even made an affidavit in which he stated that he never saw Kevin Sammut leave the room alone or carry any money.
“Dusan Fitzel, the Malta coach at the time, told investigators that he substituted Sammut at half-time of the Norway-Malta clash on technical grounds.”
Dr Sciriha also revealed that Sammut spent 48 hours in police custody.
“His bank accounts were thoroughly checked but the police found nothing against him.
“Marijo Cvrtak testified at the appeal hearing,” Dr Sciriha said.
“Cvrtak described the person he met (in Oslo) as short, stocky and with long hair. Sammut certainly doesn’t fit the description.
“Cvrtak said that Sammut resembled the person he met but he couldn’t confirm 100 per cent if it was him.
“When Cvrtak was being questioned by the Bochum police, he was allowed to search for photos of the Maltese players on the internet.
“He also had the chance to speak to Ante Sapina. Initially, he didn’t identify Kevin Sammut but when he did, he said he was a playmaker when our client normally played on the wing for the national team.
“We should also keep in mind that this person bragged that he fixed more than 500 games and has appealed against his sentence.
“Cvrtak and Sapina claimed that they have rigged other big games, including the Champions League game between Debrecen and Fiorentina and others in-volving Rapid Vienna and the Turkish national team but Cvrtak, for reasons known only to him, only remembered the details of the Maltese case.”
“Cvrtak was very ambiguous and vague as he claimed that he only recalled certain details,” Dr Sciriha added.
“He said he worked for some time with a betting company in Malta and met Sammut when the latter had a job as a waiter. Now Sammut was never employed as a waiter.
“Cvrtak testified that he had met Sammut somewhere near St Julians because he remembered seeing the Portomaso tower.”
Dr Sciriha also questioned the validity of Sapina’s evidence after he and Cvrtak intimated that they received orders from a man from Sarajevo they had never met.
“Sapina and Cvrtak said they worked for a certain Almir, from Sarajevo, but they’ve never seen him,” Dr Sciriha said.
“According to them, it was Almir who was supposed to collect the money and that they never handed out any money in connection with the Norway-Malta case.
“Sapina said he only spoke to Sammut over the phone (before the Norway game) because Cvrtak doesn’t speak good English.
“Cvrtak also recalled that he had met Sammut in the lift together with three other players but he couldn’t confirm their identity.”
Dr Sciriha also criticised UEFA not only for denying his client the right to a fair trial but also for the hasty manner in which the Appeals Body made their decision.
“I must point out that the UEFA Appeals Body took around 20 minutes to reach their verdict and impose a life ban on Sammut when the case file contained over 800 pages,” Dr Sciriha explained.
“The appeal outcome was based on the testimony of two self-confessed criminals. Furthermore, Cvrtak had initially failed to identify Sammut and up to this day, he can’t ascertain that it was him, he only said that the person he met resembled Sammut.
“The UEFA trial was unfair.”
Sammut’s legal team, which also comprises Michael Sciriha and Manuel Mallia, have compiled a 300-page dossier which has been despatched to the CAS.
“We are asking CAS to overturn UEFA’s decision. We are requesting that Sammut be acquitted but, if CAS deem otherwise, we are asking for his ban to be reduced,” Dr Sciriha said.
“Furthermore, the punishment imposed on Sammut is not in line with other sanctions given to other footballers who have been found guilty of match-fixing as, for example, the cases of Cristiano Doni and Andrea Masiello who were both handed bans of less than five years.”