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banner Wednesday, 14 March, 2001, 22:16 GMT
Trio face bans for false passports
Colombia's Farid Mondragon, who played for Metz
Colombia's Farid Mondragon, who played for Metz
By BBC Sports correspondent Harry Peart

Three South American footballers face potential fines and bans after being accused of holding falsely obtained European Community passports.

The case, being heard in a Paris court, is the latest in a series of investigations and the first trial in France over false passports.

The three players are under investigation by the French football league.

"They must realise that they are one of the links in organised crime," Prosecutor Gilbert Cevoni said of the trio.

'Victim of deception'

Farid Mondragon, a Colombian who played with a Greek passport, escaped earlier sanctions after co-operating with the authorities.

Mondragon said he did not know the passport acquired for him by an agent was fake and denied wanting to obtain a European Union passport in order to play football in France.

"I am the victim of deception," Mondragon, who claimed he wanted another passport to make it easier for him to travel abroad, told the court.

However Cervoni called for the Metz goalkeeper, the sole player of the three presently plying his trade in France, to be fined FF300,000 (30,000).

Pablo Contreras
Contreras played for Monaco
Pablo Contreras, an ex-AS Monaco player, and Emiliano Manuel Romay, who was with Nice, should face fines of FF150,000 (15,000) for carrying fake Italian passports, Cervoni added.

The pair both received suspended suspensions earlier in the season for using Italian passports.

Monaco were deducted two points for the papers used by Contreras, but they were re-instated on appeal.

However the Chilean is also being investigated by courts in the principality.

Romay said Daniel Bertoni, a member of the Argentina team which won the World Cup in 1978, had helped him acquire his passport before he signed his contract with Nice in 1999.

"I didn't want to deceive anyone," Romay added.

Using false documents, players from South America and Eastern Europe have been able to appear for clubs which are restricted to fielding a maximum of three non-European players.

The scandal, which consists of players using either forged passports or illegally obtained documents, started in December.

The December revelations of passport irregularities have already led to the league docking points from St Etienne after a Ukrainian goalkeeper and a Brazilian striker were found to be using fake documentation.

Ancestry interests

A separate inquiry is currently taking place in St Etienne and three of the team's players have been placed under official investigation for their involvement.

French police are currently investigating the authenticity of passports belonging to the 78 foreign players appearing in the first and second divisions.

There are fears that the scandal in Italy could involve some of the biggest and richest clubs in Europe.

All three players confirmed that they did not know that the passports had been fake when they obtained them and said that they had been trying to find out more about their ancestry.

The court's decision is expected on 4 April.

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