Manchester United midfielder Ander Herrera could face going to trial over claims he was involved in an alleged match fixing scandal.
The 28-year-old has been dragged into a long-running investigation into claims a La Liga game between Real Zaragoza and Levante was rigged back in 2011.
Investigators in Spain have spent over three years looking into the match at Levante – which ended in a 2-1 win for relegation threatened Zaragoza, keeping them in La Liga and sending Deportivo La Coruna down instead.
Herrera was a Zaragoza player at the time, and prosecutors in Spain believe some of the players in the squad could have been part of a deal which allegedly saw cash payments made to Levante players.
The Spanish international, who strongly denies any wrongdoing, has been warned he faces being ordered to court to explain why he is said to have received two large payments from his club, which he is then said to have immediately paid back in cash to his bosses.
He is one of 33 other players, including Atletico Madrid captain Gabi, linked to the case which investigators at Valencia’s Provincial Court want to bring to trial this summer.
Zaragoza’s then-manager Javier Aguirre also faces trial along with the club’s sporting director Antonio Prieto, who are both denying the allegations.
The bombshell news comes after a U-turn by Valencia-based investigating judge Isabel Rodriguez.
She had originally archived a long-running probe into Zaragoza’s 2-1 away win which kept the club in Spain’s top league.
The investigation was reopened following an appeal by state prosecutors, the Professional Football League and Deportivo, the club relegated after Zaragoza’s win.
At the time of the original claims, Herrera said: “I have never and never will have anything to do with the manipulation of the results of matches.
“If I am ever called to testify in a judicial hearing, I will be delighted to attend.”
Reports in Spain say the main basis for the reopening of the case was the £858,450 Zaragoza allegedly paid into the accounts of Aguirre, Prieto and nine of its footballers days ahead of the match on May 21, 2011.
Searches of the accounts of Levante stars at the time are also said to have shown players made scarce use of bank accounts and credit cards in the weeks afterwards.
Investigators suspect the Zaragoza players returned the cash deposited in their accounts to club managers so it could be passed on to the Levante players.
There are claims anti-corruption prosecutor Alejandro Luzon had named Herrera as the recipient of two cash sums of £44,000 and £35,000.
When she archived the case last year, Isabel Rodriguez said the existence of the bank transfers was “indisputable” but insisted she felt the evidence put forward by prosecutors at the time was not enough to consider the match had been fixed.
She said the only certainty was that Zaragoza players and the then-manager and sporting director had received money whose purpose was unknown.
The same judge, who heads up Valencia Court of Instruction Number Eight, has now reportedly finalised her probe and concluded proceedings should continue in a higher court where the trial will take place.
Spain’s equivalent of the Crown Prosecution Service is now understood to have ten days to lodge a formal accusation against 36 players including Herrera and Zaragoza’s ex-manager and sporting director.
Respected Spanish radio station Cadena Ser said: “There will be a trial and we will see all the players that were called up to play the match between Zaragoza and Levante that was allegedly fixed, being ordered to take the witness stand.”
What happens now in the Ander Herrera alleged match fixing investigation
THE JUDICIAL investigation into alleged match-fixing over the May 2011 Levante-Zaragoza match began in January 2015.
Investigating magistrate Isabel Rodriguez provisionally archived her probe last summer but was asked to reconsider her original ruling last month after an appeal was lodged with a higher regional court.
She has now concluded essentially that she feels there could be grounds for a trial – and paved the way for state prosecutors to formally accuse those under investigation of wrongdoing in a written indictment and request the opening of trial proceedings.
Defence lawyers for those accused could launch a counter-appeal but it would be unlikely to succeed.
The predictions are that it will be “five to six months” before the trial date is known.
Any trial would take place in public, with all the accused including the footballers having to attend.
Judicial investigations in Spain like this one into alleged match-fixing take place behind closed doors in Spain and can take years to complete.
Trials are the only part of the judicial process that are open to the press and public under Spanish criminal law and are normally much shorter than in the UK.
Formal charges against suspects are only normally laid just before trial.
Investigating magistrates – judges who carry out pre-trial criminal probes – are a feature of the French and Spanish legal systems but do not exist in England.
A spokesman for Deportivo confirmed the Valencia court ruling this morning, saying it was the result of an appeal by the club, state prosecutors and league bosses to get the investigation reopened after it was provisionally closed last year.
He said: “We asked for the case to be reopened and this is what has happened.”
A spokesman for La Liga said: “La Liga does not comment on news that appears in the media.
“If we do decide to make an official comment, we will do it through the normal channels.”
No-one was immediately available at Real Zaragoza, the club where midfielder Herrera began his career before moving to Athletic Bilbao in 2011 and then to United in 2014.
United are aware the trial has been re-opened after initially being ‘archived’.
They say Herrera’s position has not changed since his original statement, that he completely denies and wrongdoing, and will happily attend court if called.