Raids coordinated by Interpol focused on illicit Far-Eastern betting rings
Hundreds held after World Cup gambling den raids
The suspected ringleader of a major illicit World Cup gambling network has been arrested in China as part of an operation targeting thousands of illegal bookmakers across Asia.
The suspected kingpin was held along with 15 alleged associates during a swoop in both the Chinese mainland and the autonomous region of Macau, a freewheeling betting playground that is home to some of the world’s largest casinos.
The group was allegedly targeting wealthy gamblers in China and police seized vehicles, computers, mobile phones and accounting books in the series of coordinated raids, according to international police organisation Interpol.
The raid follows a similar operation in Macau during the 2014 Brazil World Cup which targeted criminals operating from three hotel rooms in the territory and allegedly took $645 million in illegal bets in just one week.
The month-long operation saw nearly 15,000 raids across China, including Hong Kong and Macau, Malaysia, Thailand and Singapore aimed at closing down illegal bookmakers who were estimated to have handled some $1.6 billion of bets.
Interpol did not give a total number of arrests but said that 242 people were arrested in Hong Kong. Malaysian police said it had arrested 166 people.
Kuala Lumpur police chief Datuk Seri Mazlan Lazim told local media that the operations started among friends and then spread through word-of-mouth. “When the World Cup ‘fever’ began, people looked for bookies to place bets,” he said. “Most payments are made online as well, though some still use cash.”
The global nature of football and gambling has seen Far Eastern betting syndicates have significance far beyond their home continent.
A group of Hong Kong and Malaysian criminals were responsible for a betting scam at top flight English football grounds in 1999, when they sabotaged floodlights leading to the postponement of football matches and allowing them to collect millions.
The plotters had used their contacts and financial clout to mingle and make friends with top-flight players. One of those on trial had his bail money put up by a former captain of the China team, who was not implicated in the scam.
The latest arrests announced Friday by Interpol was the seventh operation of its kind run by Interpol. It ran over a month until the start of the tournament held in Russia, but seized only $1.7 million in cash. More than $13 million was seized in the last operation surrounding the Euro 2016 championship.
The lack of cash appeared to show how operations were being increasingly run online and over the phone without money physically passing hands.
“A coordinated international response is necessary to tackle this type of crime, especially as it moves from gambling dens to Internet-based illegal betting operations,” said Paul Stanfield, Interpol’s director of organised and emerging crime.
The seven Interpol operations that date back to 2007 have led to more than 30,000 arrests, the seizure of some $57 million and the closure of more than 3,7000 illegal gambling dens, according to the organisation.
Despite the huge sums to be made from gambling on the World Cup - analysts said that betting turnover for 2018 was about $155 billion – betting patterns did not suggest any attempt to manipulate the outcome of matches, according to Sportradar which works with the world governing body FIFA on monitoring gambling on the game.