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Without regret, the president of the Brazilian club who helped expose the alleged rigging scandal

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GOIANIA, Brazil (AP) – When Hugo Jorge Bravo received information about what has become Brazil’s match-fixing scandal, the full-time police officer and lifelong soccer fan felt that there was only one thing.

He opened his own investigation.

But this situation was very different from any other in Bravo’s career, since his friend Vila Nova, a club in the second division of Brazil, of which he has been president since 2020, was involved.

As a result of their investigations, the federal police of Brazil and the district attorney of the state of Goiás intervened. The lower house of the national Congress also participated.

Charges relating to the manipulation of sports competitions have been brought against 15 players from both top divisions and local leagues, including two members of Vila Nova – defender Gabriel Domingos and midfielder Marcos Vinicius Alves Barreira – on the club terminated their contracts.

“It was my duty. From the beginning, I said we were not going to let this go. I wanted to get to the bottom of this,” Bravo told The Associated Press in his office inside the Vila Nova stadium. The office is decorated with trophies, his police cap and a bat with the word “results” written on it.

“I didn’t think this was such a big deal.”

The wider investigation by the prosecutor’s office in Goiás shows that players were offered between $10,000 and $20,000 to perform specific actions, such as earning yellow cards or taking penalties. These actions would bring profits to the criminals on gambling sites.

The investigation, which began in November, focused on three matches based on Bravo’s testimony. Since then, it has grown to include 11 games in the second half of 2022 and the first quarter of this year.

More parties could be added to the list as the inquiry expands.

Bravo said that last year he received information that a group of players had contacted one of his players suggesting that he take a penalty for Vila Nova against Sport Recife during the first half of their league match.

The footballer was accused of failing to comply because he did not play. This would put pressure on criminals, having incurred heavy losses.

Bravo offered his findings to the district attorney’s office in the state of Goiás, headed by Fernando Cesconetto.

“If it wasn’t for him, there would be no investigation,” Coconetto said. “What he did was brave. I’ve never heard of a club president doing what he did.”

For days, Bravo shared his initial findings with only a few members of the Vila Nova council, and decided to investigate the case on his own. His first decision was to ask gambling to send him evidence through messages on mobile phone applications.

The suspects appeared to be so confident that they believed the president of Vila Nova would pay the alleged debts of the players in question.

“It would be an honor to take this under, I’ve said it from day one,” Bravo said. “I wanted the criminals to believe that I was there to fix everything and save them. They believed me.”

At least two terabytes of data, including videos, screenshots, voice messages and documents, are being analyzed in the state court of Goiás.

“His investigation began at his own club. And without him we wouldn’t have been able to gather much more evidence in our investigation,” Cesconetto said.

Eduardo Bandeira de Mello, a lawmaker and former president of Flamengo, Brazil’s most popular club, said that without Bravo’s investigation, “​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​a perform today.”

De Mello will be one of the key members of the congressional investigation, which opens on Wednesday. Federal police have also begun investigating the case, raising the possibility that they will cooperate with international authorities if evidence turns up of someone playing in foreign leagues.

This week, De Mello told the AP that the legislature’s investigation will be critical to the investigation’s visibility.

“This will have an educational effect,” he considered. “Any young athlete who tries to join a plot like this will think twice.”

De Mello was the president of Flamengo when Max Alves, a midfielder for the Colorado Rapids, was playing for the Brazilian club. Alves was cited in the earlier investigation, although he has not been charged.

He was suspended by his team in MLS. Alves has not released public comments.

As for Bravo, it has received a lot of praise.

“It’s true that we wouldn’t have anything if he didn’t use his police record to uncover the ruse,” said De Mello. “Vila Nova is a very popular club in Goiania, it’s the people’s club. Raising something like this is a big responsibility. He did the right thing by investigating and then going to the authorities.”

Bravo, who could testify in the congressional investigation, has attracted the attention of the press, but he says that nothing else has changed. He is still a policeman during the day, he often attends church and goes to Vila Nova games.

He has no regrets.

“It was my duty, as a police officer and as president of the club,” he said. “What could I have done differently?”

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