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Benfica president charged in corruption probe: source

Lisbon (AFP) – Portuguese investigators charged Benfica president Luis Filipe Vieira with influence peddling on Tuesday as they widen a corruption enquiry, an informed source told AFP.

Portugal’s most popular club, which won back-to-back European Cups in the early 1960s, confirmed police had searched its premises while adding the club itself was not being targeted by the investigation.

“Benfica confirms the carrying out of searches in connection with an investigation which does not target the club”, it said in a statement shortly before news emerged of the charges against Vieira.

The anti-corruption unit of Portugal’s national police said it had carried out some 30 searches as it investigates “corruption, obtaining undue advantage, laundering of capital, influence peddling and aggravated tax fraud”.

The Lusa news agency quoted an informed source as saying Vieira’s residence had also been searched.

Police added four men and a woman had been arrested, including two lawyers, but did not name them as it pursued “Operation Lex”.

Six others were also charged, including two Court of Appeal judges and a sporting director, the public prosecutor’s office said in a statement.

According to local media, the chief suspect in the investigation is Rui Rangel, a judge at the Court of Appeal in Lisbon who ran for the Benfica presidency in 2012.

The case comes with Benfica having been under a cloud of suspicion for several months, a position fuelled by the media and their main rivals, Porto and Sporting Lisbon.

“Judiciary police investigating Benfica’s plan to dominate national football,” read Saturday’s front page of the Expresso daily, which reported the decision to combine three cases involving Benfica into a single investigation.

The most recent concerns fixed matches, which saw four Rio Ave players in December placed under investigation on suspicion of taking bribes to lose a top-flight fixture against Feirense last February.

Reports also claimed that police suspected Benfica of fixing an April 2016 match they won against Rio Ave, prompting Vieira to denounce “a desperate campaign” to prevent his club from claiming a fifth consecutive title.

Sporting revealed in 2015 that Benfica had presented gift boxes to referees officiating the club’s home games, but neither the courts nor sports authorities found anything wrong with this practice.

In June of last year, a Porto official released emails between individuals closely linked to Benfica and former referees, which he claimed proved the existence of a “system of corruption of referees aimed at favouring Benfica”.

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