x Abu Dhabi, UAEThursday 27 July 2017

'Fabric of the game is under threat' from match fixing in European football

Asian betting syndicate said to be involved as 680 matches, including two Champions League games, fixed, says Europol.

Rob Wainwright reckons Europol's investigation is match fixing's biggest ever. Peter Dejong / AP Photo
Rob Wainwright reckons Europol's investigation is match fixing's biggest ever. Peter Dejong / AP Photo

European police warned on Monday that the integrity of football was at stake, as they revealed they had unearthed a criminal network fixing hundreds of matches, including games in the Champions League and World Cup qualifiers.

Europol said a five-country investigation had identified 680 suspicious matches targeted by a Singapore-based betting cartel, whose illegal activities stretched to players, referees and officials across the world at all levels of the game.

"It is clear to us that this is the biggest investigation ever into suspected match fixing," said Rob Wainwright, the Europol chief.

"It is the work of a sophisticated organised crime syndicate based in Asia and working with criminal facilitators around Europe."

He added: "Match fixing is a significant threat to football ... involving a broad community of actors. Illegal profits are being made that threatens the very fabric of the game."

Wainwright said he would be writing to Michel Platini, the president of Uefa, European football's governing body, but said all of football needed to "heed the warning" and be on their guard.

The revelations come after Interpol last month warned that global football corruption was helping to fuel the criminal underworld's domination of prostitution, drug-trafficking and gunrunning and after several high-profile scandals.

They include the so-called "calcioscommesse" or illegal football betting affair in Italy, which overshadowed the country's preparations for last year's European championships and saw several top footballers arrested.

Ronald Noble, the secretary general of Interpol, said last November that it expected to make arrests in Singapore over the Italian match fixing scandal after links were suspected between one player arrested and crime lord Tan Seet Eng, who is also known as Dan Tan.

As part of the investigations, 14 people have already been sentenced to a total of 39 years in prison, Europol said, with more than 100 prosecutions expected.

In the latest claims, Europol said that at least 425 referees, players and other officials were suspected of involvement, with matches rigged so that major sums of money could be won through betting.

Of this total, 151 are living in Germany, 66 in Turkey and 29 in Switzerland, but suspects fixing matches in other parts of Europe and around the world are also concerned.

Two of Europe's Uefa Champions League matches and some World Cup qualifiers are also suspected, Europol said.

No details were given about which top-flight matches were involved because some investigations were still continuing, although it was revealed that one of the Champions League matches had been played in England.

A spokesman for the English Football Association said: "The FA are not aware of any credible reports into suspicious Champions League fixtures in England, nor has any information been shared with us.

"While the Champions League comes under Uefa jurisdiction, The FA, alongside the Premier League, Football League and Conference, monitor markets for the top seven leagues and three major cup competitions in England and take matters of integrity in football extremely seriously."

The largest bet profit Europol did reveal was €700,000 (Dh3.4 million) in an Austrian Bundesliga game between Redbull Salzburg and Hartberg, but the policing agency gave no further details.

Criminals made over €8 million in profits from betting on fixed matches, while some €2m in cash and profits were seized.

Europol showed television coverage of a suspect match, a junior international between Argentina and Bolivia, during which a Hungarian referee awarded a highly dubious penalty in extra time.

The investigation was carried out by Europol and five European countries. They were Germany, Hungary, Slovenia, Finland and Austria.

A further 300 suspicious matches have been identified outside Europe in Africa, Asia, and South and Central America, in the course of the investigation, Europol said.

German chief investigator Friedhelm Althans said that showed the truly "horrifying nature of the problem" and the implications were stark, including financial losses for legal betting firms, clubs, players and the trust of the supporting public.

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