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Police hold 16 in Portuguese probe

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LISBON, Portugal (Reuters) -- Portuguese police have detained 16 people, including the head of the football league, in a probe into alleged attempts to bribe referees.

Those held for questioning in "Operation Golden Whistle" included sports executives and referees ranging in age from 31 to 67, police said in a statement.

Some 150 officers searched around 60 homes, city halls and offices of sports organizations including those of the national federation.

The operation was centered on northern Portugal.

Authorities acted because of "strong indications of falsification of documents, sporting corruption and influence trafficking" involving referees, a police statement said.

The probe is another blow to the image of Portuguese clubs, already suffering from low attendance and financial losses at many sides.

Allegations of corruption have swirled for years. In late 2002, the attorney general said football had "dark areas," and Antonio Dias da Cunha, chairman of Lisbon's Sporting, complained of "dirty money" and shady accounting.

The investigation is taking place less than eight weeks before the June 12 start of the European championship being hosted by Portugal. The government said the probe would not affect the tournament.

Loureiro questioned

Valentim Loureiro, chairman of the Portuguese Professional Soccer League, and Antonio Pinto de Sousa, head of the autonomous referees' council, were among those detained, Gilberto Madail, chairman of the Portuguese Soccer Federation, told private TSF radio.

Loureiro is mayor of Gondomar, a suburb of Porto about 300 km (200 miles) north of Lisbon, and police examined documents in municipal offices related to the city's Division II B team, a city hall spokesman told Reuters.

Officers have detained Gondomar's club president, who also is vice mayor, and a club executive, the spokesman said.

Madail, the federation head, told a news conference he had "total solidarity" with those detained.

The federation had sent about a dozen complaints involving officiating to police and the federation's disciplinary council over two or three years, he said.

"Of those 12 cases, there was a response to only one, and that response was to close it for lack of proof," Madail said.

Coaches, club executives and fans frequently complain about the standard of refereeing.

Sporting Lisbon are considering a complaint to the league about officiating in their 2-1 at Boavista away on Saturday, a club spokesman said.

Sporting were reduced to nine men in the last 10 minutes, when the Porto side scored both their goals.

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