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Soccer-Romania launches championship corruption probe

BUCHAREST, May 8 (Reuters) - Romanian prosecutors said on Thursday they had launched a criminal investigation into possible corruption involving the Romanian championship.

“It is about unravelling criminal action in a corruption case,” a statement from Romania’s anti-corruption department (DNA) said. “The names involved and the responsibilities will be made known when the inquiry allows it.”

Media reports said the DNA’s investigations were centred on a restaurant in Cluj, where on Wednesday, a group of Steaua Bucharest staff and a Universitatea Cluj player were waiting for the final whistle in the championship-deciding game between CFR Cluj and Universitatea.

CFR won 1-0 to take the title by one point from Steaua Bucharest.

Daily Gazeta Sporturilor cited witnesses saying that four people were detained. They were holding 1.7 million euros ($2.61 million) allegedly to be paid to Universitatea Cluj should they stop CFR Cluj winning the title, the paper and other media said.

Steaua owner Gigi Becali admitted the money was his but denied it was destined for Universitatea.

“They had 1.7 millions euros,” Becali told the local Sport.ro TV station. “I sent them (the four emissaries) to buy chocolate and candies (from Cluj)... I buy what I want. The money is mine and I may send them anywhere I want.”

But Becali denied any financial wrongdoing.

“To find me guilty the DNA must prove that the money was destined for Universitatea players and its staff,” Becali said.

The Romanian Soccer Federation told Reuters on Thursday it would strictly apply its rules on illegal bonuses or agreements between clubs or their officials.

"But the sporting decision will be taken only after the DNA finishes its investigations and gives a final ruling," federation director Ionut Lupescu said. (Editing by Clare Lovell) (clare.lovell@reuters.com +442075427933; RM: clare.lovell.reuters.com@reuters.net; For the latest Reuters Premier League and international football news see: football.uk.reuters.com)).

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