China's former players face graft trial

China put four former international footballers on trial Wednesday for fixing a domestic league match as a crackdown on rampant corruption in Chinese soccer neared its end game.

Nan Yong, the former head of the Chinese Football Association (CFA), also went on trial for taking bribes, the state Xinhua news agency said, a day after proceedings opened against his predecessor Xie Yalong on similar charges.

The trials mark the culmination of a campaign to root out entrenched graft in the Chinese game that has ensnared dozens of CFA and club officials, referees, and players accused of match-fixing, gambling and other misdeeds.

Exposed two years ago, the scandal has combined with the national squad's poor performance to repel Chinese fans, undermining the popularity of the domestic game in the world's most populous country.

Xinhua said the players facing justice in a court in the northeastern Chinese city of Shenyang included two key performers on the Chinese national side that qualified for the 2002 World Cup finals, Qi Hong and Jiang Jin.

The pair are accused of taking bribes to fix a 2003 domestic league game in which their team, Shanghai Guoji, lost 2-1 to Tianjin Teda, Xinhua said.

"The result sent their crosstown rival Shanghai Shenhua to the league title and prevented Tianjin from being relegated," it said.

The pair's former national teammates Shen Si and Li Ming are also charged with the offence and Xinhua quoted unidentified sources as saying the four players received bribes totalling eight million yuan ($1.3 million).

Xie and Nan, who were both arrested in 2010, are the highest-ranking officials yet charged.

Nan, 49, was tried in the northeastern city of Tieling on 17 counts of taking bribes totalling 1.48 million yuan, Xinhua said.

Officials at the various courts declined to comment to AFP or could not be reached.

As the trials proceeded, current CFA head Wei Di called for continued vigilance to prevent a corruption "rebound" after the current crackdown.

"Lessons have been learned from the scandals but similar cases might happen again in the future. So we must stay vigilant all along," Wei said in comments carried by Xinhua.

He said the CFA had established an anti-corruption mechanism with police and was considering cooperating with Interpol and world soccer body FIFA.

Xie, 56, was tried in a court in the northeastern city of Dandong on 12 counts of accepting bribes totaling more than 1.7 million yuan, reports have said.

His lawyer said Xie pleaded guilty but claimed to have been tortured during investigations to extract a confession.

"Xie Yalong told the court he was tortured and that what he said before was false," attorney Jin Xiaoguang told AFP. "As a lawyer, I call on the court to investigate the torture of Xie."

He said it was not known when a verdict would be issued.

State media reported Tuesday that Xie's defence had requested his earlier confessions be thrown out, alleging they were obtained using electric shocks and beatings.

Also being tried Wednesday in Dandong was Li Dongsheng, former head of the CFA's referees committee, on 30 counts of taking bribes worth more than 790,000 yuan and 11 counts of embezzling a total of 60,000 yuan, Xinhua said.

A court in February sentenced former CFA deputy chief Yang Yimin and former referees director Zhang Jianqiang to more than a decade in jail each, also for accepting bribes.

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