Public prosecutors in Brazil have charged 16 people with alleged match-fixing amid a widening scandal that has reached the country’s top football division.
Among those under investigation include seven professional footballers from clubs such as Santos, Juventude and Cuiaba.
Prosecutors from Goias state allege that the offenses affected 13 games, including eight that were played in the Brazilian Serie A, the country’s top tier.
The news came as five players were suspended by their clubs on Wednesday: Athletico Paranaense’s Pedrinho and Bryan Garcia; Cruzeiro’s Richard Coelho, Fluminense’s Vitor Mendes and America’s Nino Paraiba.
On Tuesday, Santos said they suspended defender Eduardo Bauermann for his involvement in the illegal betting ring.
Prosecutors allege that the players received payments by a criminal group to commit infractions during matches. The group won handsome payouts by betting that the misdemeanors would occur.
According to prosecutors, the organization lured players by offering an upfront payment of up to 500,000 reais (around 100,000 U.S. dollars).
“It is a specialized operation aimed at the enticement and co-opting of professional athletes for financial gain,” the prosecutors said in a statement.
Sports betting has been legal in Brazil since 2018 when the government introduced online gambling laws.
Late on Wednesday, Brazil’s justice minister Flavio Dino ordered federal police to launch a nation-wide investigation into match-fixing in football.
In a statement posted on social media, Dino said the probe was opened “due to the evidence of match-fixing in sports events, with inter-state and international repercussions.”