Monday, February 04 15:29:40
European investigators have uncovered evidence that hundreds of soccer matches at club and national level were fixed around the globe in a scam run from Singapore, police said today.
A joint inquiry by Europol, the European anti-crime agency, and national prosecutors has identified about 680 suspicious matches including qualifying games for the World Cup and European Championships, and for the Champions League for European club sides, Europol head Rob Wainwright said.
The matches, some of which have already been subject to successful criminal prosecutions, were played between 2008 and 2011. About 380 of the suspicious matches were played in Europe, and a further 300 were identified in Africa, Asia, and south and central America.
Soccer is the world's most popular sport, watched by billions live and on television around the globe and making huge profits for some clubs and broadcasters.
Last year the head of an anti-corruption watchdog estimated that $1 trillion was gambled on sport each year - or $3 billion a day - with most coming from Asia and put on soccer matches.
A German investigator described a network involving couriers ferrying bribes around the world, paying off players and referees in the fixing which involved about 425 corrupt officials, players and serious criminals in 15 countries.
"We have evidence for 150 of these cases, and the operations were run out of Singapore with bribes of up to 100,000 euros paid per match," said Friedhelm Althans, chief investigator for police in the German city of Bochum, told a news conference.
Investigators said no names of players or clubs would be released while the investigation proceeded. However, the fixing also included top flight national league matches in several European countries, as well as two Champions League matches, including one played in Britain.
Singapore police said last month that they were helping Italian authorities to investigate alleged match fixing involving a Singaporean, but said he had not been arrested or charged with any offence there.
Althans said that, though German police had concrete proof of 8 million euros ($11 million) in gambling profits from the match fixing, this was probably the tip of the iceberg.
Investigators described how gang members immediately subordinate to the Singapore-based leader of a worldwide network were each tasked with maintaining contacts with corrupt players and officials in their parts of the world.
Laszlo Angeli, a Hungarian prosecutor, gave an example of how the scam worked. "The Hungarian member, who was immediately below the Singapore head, was in touch with Hungarian referees who could then attempt to swing matches at which they officiated around the world," he said.
Accomplices would then place bets on the internet or by phone with bookmakers in Asia, where bets that would be illegal in Europe were accepted. "One fixed match might involve up to 50 suspects in 10 countries on separate continents," said Althans.
"Even two World Cup qualification matches in Africa, and one in Central America, are under suspicion," Althans added. (C ) Reuters