ISRAEL: Two top players suspended over suspected statutory rape charges

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Maccabi Tel Aviv against Bnei Yehuda Tel Aviv F.C. at the final of the State Cup in the Teddy stadium, Jerusalem, on May 25, 2017. Photo by Yonatan Sindel/Flash90 *** Local Caption *** âîø âáéò äîãéðä áëãåøâì îëáé úì àáéá áðé éäåãä èãé éøåùìéí âáéò îùç÷ ëãåøâì òøï æäáé

Two soccer players in a top Israeli team were put on leave Saturday as police investigated suspicions that they committed statutory rape by having sex with two underage girls.

Maccabi Tel Aviv said in a statement 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 Wednesday, 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.

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.

Police were also reportedly concerned about online bullying of the girls.

Associates of the players, who haven’t been publicly named, told the Haaretz daily the girls presented themselves as 17, adding they have text messages proving this.

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“The two players didn’t commit a crime,” the attorneys of the players said, adding they have “unequivocal evidence” proving their clients’ innocence.

However, 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 punishment in Israel for statutory rape of a minor between 14 and 16 is up to five years in prison.

Maccabi Tel Aviv said it was aware of the reported suspicions against the players but wouldn’t comment further.