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Malta player's life ban cut to 10 years for helping fixers' bets scam in Euro 2008 qualifier

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GENEVA - A Malta player accused of helping a Croatian gang fix a European Championship qualifier had his life ban from football cut to 10 years.

The Court of Arbitration for Sport partially upheld Kevin Sammut's appeal against expulsion by UEFA, his lawyer Michael Sciriha told The Associated Press on Wednesday.

"They have overturned the judgment from a life ban into a 10-year ban," Sciriha said in a telephone interview.

Sammut had denied colluding with a fixing syndicate in June 2007 to help manipulate Malta's Euro 2008 qualifier in Norway for a betting scam. Malta lost 4-0.

UEFA originally banned Sammut for 10 years in August 2012 but its own appeals panel increased that to life.

Despite the CAS judgment rejecting a life ban, UEFA said it welcomed the decision confirming Sammut's involvement in the case.

The court considered "a ten-year ban from any football related-activity is commensurate to Mr. Sammut's infraction of the rules," UEFA said in a statement.

UEFA prosecuted the 33-year-old Sammut using convicted fixers Ante Sapina and Marijo Cvrtak as witnesses.

Sapina and Cvrtak are serving five-year prison terms in Germany for multiple fraud convictions. They made millions in betting profits by bribing referees, players and officials to manipulate matches and results.

A court in Bochum reduced their sentences by six months in April for co-operating with authorities.

Sciriha said the ruling states Sammut's ban runs from August 2012, when a UEFA disciplinary panel first judged the case.

Then, Malta Football Association President Norman Darmanin Demajo said there was "overwhelming evidence" of a fix connecting players to an organized crime gang.

Cvrtak claimed at his initial trial at Bochum, Germany, that he met three Malta players in their Oslo hotel who would arrange the fix.

Sammut, a midfielder who was substituted at halftime when the score was 1-0, denied involvement.

UEFA found him guilty but cleared his teammates, Kenneth Scicluna and Stephen Wellman, who both played the full 90 minutes.

The match was played when Norway was ranked No. 36 in FIFA's world rankings and in contention to qualify for Euro 2008. It was heavily favoured to beat No. 117 Malta.

Three late goals for Norway boosted payouts on potential bets such as how many goals would be scored.

In the 2007-08 season, which began weeks after the alleged corruption in Norway, Malta league players voted Sammut their player of the year.

Sapina is perhaps the highest profile European caught in a wave of global match-fixing cases in recent years.

He was previously jailed in a 2005 fixing scandal in Germany which rocked the country before it hosted the 2006 World Cup.

The Bochum investigation came to light in 2009, and implicated matches in the World Cup, Champions League, Europa League and domestic leagues across Europe.

Sapina and Cvrtak testified to bribing the referee of a 2010 World Cup qualifier between Liechtenstein and Finland in September 2009.

In exchange for 40,000 euros ($54,000), Bosnian referee Novo Panic agreed to ensure two goals would be scored in the second half. The match ended 1-1 after Panic awarded a penalty kick late in the match. UEFA banned him for life.

In the Sammut case, UEFA and the CAS have yet to disclose evidence that the Malta player received money from the alleged fix.

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