Nepal footballers bailed in World Cup fixing case

Kathmandu (AFP) - A court granted bail Tuesday to Nepal's national football captain and four other players charged with treason over alleged match-fixing in World Cup qualifiers, according to official documents and a defence lawyer.

"The Special Court has ordered the players to be released on bail," said Nani Babu Budhathoki, representing defendant and former national footballer Bikash Singh Chhetri.

All five players, including skipper Sagar Thapa and national goalkeeper Ritesh Thapa, have denied any involvement in match-fixing following their arrests in the capital last month.

Prosecutors have sought life sentences for the five, including defender Sandip Rai and coach Anjan KC, after they were charged on Sunday under a 1989 act against unlawfully jeopardising Nepal's sovereignty, integrity or national unity.

"The court has declared bail in the amount of 500,000 rupees ($5,000) for Anjan KC and Ritesh Thapa, 100,000 rupees for Sagar Thapa and 50,000 each for Sandip Rai and Bikash Singh Chhetri," Budhathoki told AFP.

A physiotherapist, Dejiv Thapa, has also been charged with treason in absentia.

The court order seen by AFP confirmed the decision to grant bail and asked the players to appear before the bench on November 29.

Detectives said the arrests came after significant sums of money were found deposited in the six defendants' bank accounts from suspected match-fixers based in Southeast Asia.

The six men are suspected of involvement in match-fixing over a period of eight years, including several games played in 2011 as part of Nepal's unsuccessful bid to qualify for the 2014 World Cup in Brazil.

Officials are investigating several matches including one against Jordan that Nepal lost 9-0 as well as games with Bangladesh and Afghanistan, played as part of a regional competition.

The scandal is the latest blow to the Himalayan nation's sporting reputation after graft allegations forced All Nepal Football Association president Ganesh Thapa to step aside last year.

He was alleged to have embezzled millions of dollars and accepted bribes during his 19-year tenure.

The ethics committee of football's world governing body FIFA launched an investigation last year into Thapa, whose brother Kamal is Nepal's deputy prime minister. The outcome of that inquiry is still pending.

FIFA has itself been rocked by a series of corruption scandals and allegations in recent months, leading to the suspension of its president Sepp Blatter.

Nepal is currently ranked 190 in FIFA's world rankings and has already been knocked out of the qualifiers for the 2018 World Cup in Russia after losing a two-leg qualifier to India 2-0.