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Vietnamese Soccer Stars Convicted of Match Fixing

Seven members of Vietnam's national soccer team have been convicted of deliberately holding down the score in a game against Burma in exchange for payments from a gambling ring. The case had crystallized public anger over corruption in Vietnam. Matt Steinglass reports from Hanoi.

The court in Ho Chi Minh City handed down its verdicts Friday afternoon. All seven players, as well as a former soccer player who helped organize the plot, were found guilty of match fixing during a game against Burma in December 2005.

Lawyer Pham Liem Chinh represented the most famous of the defendants, Vietnam's top football star Van Quyen.

Chinh says the ringleader of the point-shaving scheme, Le Quoc Vuong, received the harshest sentence, of six years in prison. Truong Tan Hai, the ex-player who served as a liaison to gambling kingpins, received two years.

Van Quyen and the other six players received two-year suspended sentences, during which they will be banned from playing soccer.

The court ruled that while playing against much weaker Burma during the 2005 Southeast Asia Games in Manila, the players had deliberately held back to keep Vietnam's margin of victory to just one goal. In return, they had been promised a total of $15,000 by the leader of an organized gambling ring.

Gambling on soccer is widespread in Vietnam, but this is the first time members of the national team have been caught participating in it.

Vietnamese fans hope the trial is the beginning of an effort to clean up the sport, amid discussion of legalizing betting on soccer.

Lawyer Chinh said he was relatively satisfied with the verdict. Counting time served, Chinh says, Van Quyen's suspended sentence will be up at the end of 2007, when he could return to playing soccer.

An official at the Vietnamese Football Federation confirmed that if the players completed their sentences and showed remorse, they could be allowed to play again.

This scandal was the first of a series of cases revealed last year that brought the issue of corruption to the forefront of Vietnamese society.

Nearly two dozen referees, coaches and sports officials are facing criminal charges for various match-fixing incidents, making sport one of the more corrupt areas in Vietnamese life, alongside construction and transportation.