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Cash, cars and hookers? Another bad week for Taiwan baseball

24 are charged in game-fixing scandal, while a star pitcher makes news of a different kind.

Supporters of the Brother Elephant baseball team cheer during a game against the Uni-President Lions in Tianmu Baseball Stadium in Taipei April 4, 2009. (Pichi Chuang/Reuters)

TAIPEI, Taiwan —  Taiwan baseball took another hit this week as prosecutors charged 24 people Wednesday in connection with the pro-league's worst game-fixing scandal yet.

A probe was launched last October after the end of the Taiwan pro league's season.

Turns out the scope of the alleged corruption was far wider than fans feared. Those charged included three star players, a prominent local politician and five bookies, according to local press reports.

More than 40 other players were found to have colluded with gambling rings to fix games, and some of those may be charged after the Chinese New Year vacation, which runs through next week.

The lurid scandal involves allegations that gambling rings and crooked politicians used offers of cash, cars and prostitutes — and if all that failed, threats — to induce pro baseball players to throw games.

Baseball expert Yu Jun-wei said Taiwan's pro league would likely hobble on this year, despite the cloud of graft.

"They will still continue to operate the league, but I'm not really optimistic about attendance this year after what happened," said Yu, especially since one of those charged was the "Golden Warrior" Chen Chih-yuan, star outfielder for Taiwan's most popular team the Brother

Yu said he was surprised that so many teams and players were involved in the alleged corruption. And he was "shocked" at reports that gambling rings had recruited players to throw games while they were still in high school, years before they'd even made in into the pro

"They approached these kids through a coach at the high school, so when they got to the pro league, they could control those players," said Yu.

Prosecutors are seeking the heaviest punishment — nine years in jail and a $1.5 million fine — for a local politician allegedly involved in threatening players and betting on games. A Japanese manager was also charged, as was the "Windshield Wiper," the nickname for the head of an alleged gambling ring.

Prosecutors said the alleged game-throwing took place over four seasons (2006 through 2009) and local media even speculated that players on Taiwan's national team may have deliberately lost to China in the 2008 Olympics.

Meanwhile, the Taiwan media was also buzzing with the latest on pitcher Wang Chien-ming, dubbed "Taiwan's Glory."