Two soccer players from a top-flight Israeli squad were questioned by police for hours late Thursday over suspicions that they committed statutory rape by having sex with two underage girls.
The two Maccabi Tel Aviv players, who have not been publicly named, were grilled by investigators for over four hours before being released without conditions.
Maccabi Tel Aviv said in a statement Saturday that the allegations were “serious,” and stated that it would follow the investigation closely before deciding on any further action.
According to a Channel 13 news report last week, Maccabi Tel Aviv received a complaint the players had sex with girls who were younger than 16 years old, the age of consent in Israel. The network said the high school where the girls study also received the complaint.
The players said they met the girls at a party hosted by another Israeli Premier League player, where they exchanged numbers. They later met at the house of one of the players, where they had sex, the report said.
Police confirmed Sunday that they were investigating the case.
According to the Ynet news site, the two players told police that they did not know the girls were underage and gave authorities access to their cellphones to view text messages between them and the girls,
Associates of the players previously told the Haaretz daily the girls presented themselves as 17, adding they have text messages proving this.
Police also took testimony from one of the accusers, but the second girl canceled her planned meeting with police because she did not feel well, her attorney told the Haaretz daily.
“This is a 15-year-old girl who has undergone terrible shaming, including slurs, curses and threats online,” attorney Sassi Gez told the paper. “She feels like the two players took advantage of her. There’s no 15-year-old girl who is ready to sleep with two guys in the course of half an hour. She went to the apartment with stardust in her eyes and left as just dust.”
One of the girls denied Thursday they lied about their age.
“They’re lying. We never said we’re 18 and we weren’t asked our ages,” she told Channel 12 news. “The soccer players knew we were high school students.”
She added, “I’m really hurt. I understand I was taken advantage of.”
The scandal has rocked the Israeli soccer world just as it was beginning to get back to playing games following a two-month hiatus due to the coronavirus pandemic.
Speaking to the press Sunday, coach Vladimir Ivic said he was trying not to let the affair distract the team. “This was not a quiet week. Sometimes you have periods with problems. We are a professional organization and we want to think about soccer and our work,” he said.
On Friday, Channel 13 reported police were probing if the players had sexual relations with the girls on more than one occasion, as well as if there were other soccer players involved.
The punishment in Israel for statutory rape of a minor between 14 and 16 years of age is up to five years in prison.
Maccabi Tel Aviv, the reigning Premier League champion, is set to face off at Jaffa’s Bloomfield Stadium against Hapoel Beersheba Monday. Officials reportedly fear fans will show up en masse to support the team after a call among supporters went out to rally outside the stadium during the game.
The team was already fined last week after players and fans congregated together in violation of social distancing rules following a win against Maccabi Haifa.