MELBOURNE, Australia (AP) -- Australian football was rocked on Sunday by news that nine players and a coach from one team had been arrested after police uncovered a match-fixing syndicate operating in the top division of the Victoria state competition.
Football Federation Australia said in a statement that the 10 belong to the Victorian Premier League club Southern Stars and that they face charges under Victoria's Crimes Act, which was amended by the state government earlier this year to include specific offenses related to match-fixing.
Police said many of the players arrested were from Britain and playing in Australia in their off-season. They said they would be looking to prosecute members of an overseas syndicate, believed to have been operating throughout Europe.
There was no immediate word as to when the players and coach would be due in court.
Police said the operation had been under way since August, working off information provided by Football Federation Australia. Those arrested are expected to face match-fixing charges, which can attract a 10-year maximum penalty in Australia.
Southern Stars President Ercan Cicek told Australian Associated Press that he had no suspicion of alleged match-fixing.
Cicek said five players from England joined the southeast Melbourne-based team at the start of the season at the suggestion of a man who also offered to organize sponsorship.
Cicek said the man, whose full name he was not able to provide to AAP, first contacted him in 2012.
"Last year somebody emailed me from England, (saying) 'We want to sponsor your club,'" Cicek said.
He said the Stars initially ignored the offer, but received a second approach about six months later.
"Again comes email to me ... he is saying 'We give you five players for a present.'"
The Stars, who Cicek described as a small community club, didn't have to pay the players.
"Our committee members are thinking, 'Oh beautiful, five players for free, we're not going to pay anything, it's a big, big bonus'. It looks like a delight for us."
Cicek said the Stars' coach also provided his services for free this season, telling the club he just wanted a chance at the Premier League level in Victoria.
The Southern Stars have played 21 matches this season, losing 16 and drawing four. Their only win was a 1-0 victory over top-placed club Northcote City in August.
Victorian police deputy commissioner Graham Ashton said Australia was a prime location for match-fixing on Asian betting markets.
"Further match-fixing risks are imminent in Australia, partly because of localized overseas betting on Australian sporting events due to our favorable time zone," Ashton said. "It is vital that we continue gathering intelligence to take preventative action to make it difficult for organized crime to infiltrate our sporting codes."
In February, the crime commission released the findings of the year-long "Project Aperio," saying there was evidence of match-fixing in Australian sport, as well as widespread use of prohibited substances and the infiltration of organized criminal groups in the distribution of performance-enhancing drugs.
FFA chief David Gallop said FFA provided police with information relating to suspicious betting activity.
"We provided information to Victoria Police within 24 hours of receiving an alert from our international betting integrity monitoring agents Sportradar, who then worked closely with the investigation team," Gallop said.
"The arrests today show that the integrity measures put in place by FFA are working to detect illegal betting activity. We're determined to keep football clean."
In addition to the criminal proceedings in Victoria state, FFA said it will charge the people arrested today under FFA's National Code of Conduct. They will face a range of sanctions including life bans from football which would apply worldwide.
Gallop said the arrests were a reminder of how lower leagues are "potentially more susceptible to this kind of activity" given the absence of checks in place at international and A-League matches.