THE HAGUE: Some 425 officials and players within European football are under investigation for football corruption by Europol writes KEIR RADNEDGE.

The statistics were revealed this morning by the European police agency in its latest review of  the extent of matchfixing.

The suspects come from more than 15 countries in which some 380 football matches, mostly in lower divisions, are considered to have questionable

Europol claims that last year criminal gangs invested at least €16m in betting to reap a €8.5m profit on matches known to have been fixed, either in terms of results or incidents during the match action, at a cost of €2.7m in illicit payments.

The highest bribe paid, as far as Europol knows, was €140,000 to fix one game. Payments of up to €100,000 per game were not uncommon.

‘‘This is a sad day for European football,’’ said Rob Wainwright, head of Europol, describing  “matchfixing activity on a scale we have not seen before.”

He repeated the well-aired assertion that much of the criminal activity was generated on behalf of a Singapore-based betting syndicate.

Widening inquiries worldwide generated a list of 700 dubious matches in 30 countries including two Champions League games, one of them in England.

Criminal convictions were reported previously – as was previously known – from Austria, Finland, Germany, Hungary and Slovenia. An ongoing investigation has been under way for the past two years in Italy concerning matches in Serie A and Serie B with links stretching as far back as betting rings in the Far East.

Last month, FIFA security director Ralf Mutschke said more help is needed from national law enforcement agencies and that FIFA had asked Interpol to persuade its members to help protect the world’s most popular sport.

Europol statement

Europol said, in its statement,  that “a major investigation involving Europol and police teams from 13 European countries has uncovered an extensive criminal network involved in widespread football match-fixing.”

It expanded: “A total of 425 match officials, club officials, players, and serious criminals, from more than 15 countries, are suspected of being involved in attempts to fix more than 380 professional football matches.

The activities formed part of a sophisticated organised crime operation, which generated more than €8m in betting profits and involved over €2m in corrupt payments to those involved in the matches.

The joint investigation team (JIT), codenamed Operation VETO, ran between July 2011 and January 2013.

Led by Europol, Germany, Finland, Hungary, Austria and Slovenia, it was also supported by Eurojust, Interpol and investigators from eight other European countries.

The investigation coordinated multiple police inquiries across Europe and was facilitated by intelligence reports from Europol, based on the analysis of 13,000 emails and other material, which identified links between matches and suspects and uncovered the nature of the organised crime network behind the illegal activities.

The investigation has since led to several prosecutions in the countries involved, including Germany where 14 persons have already been convicted and sentenced to a total of 39 years in prison.

Rob Wainwright, director of Europol, said: “This is a sad day for European football and more evidence of the corrupting influence in society of organised crime.

“But this investigation also proves the value of international police cooperation in fighting back against the criminals involved. Europol and its law enforcement partners are committed to pursuing serious criminals wherever they operate.

“Unfortunately this also now includes the world of football, where illegal profits are made on a scale and in a way that threatens the very fabric of the game. All those responsible for running football should heed the warnings found in this case.”

Wainwright confirmed that he would share the results of the investigation with UEFA president Michel Platini.

Among the 380 or more suspicious matches identified by this case are World Cup and European Championship qualification matches, two UEFA Champions League matches and several top-flight matches in European national leagues.

In addition another 300 suspicious matches were identified outside Europe, mainly in Africa, Asia, South and Central America.

Fridhelm Althans from Bochum Police, Germany, and a spokesman for JIT VETO, said: “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. Even two World Championship qualification matches in Africa, and one in Central America, are under suspicion.”

This information will be shared with Interpol for further action in the context of its long-term efforts to work with a broad community around the world to crack down on this problem.

Gianni Baldi, head of Interpol’s drugs and organized crime unit, added: “Match fixing is a global issue requiring strong partnerships at the national, regional and international levels not only to target and dismantle the criminal networks making millions in illicit profits, but also to implement training programmes to better protect all those involved in football.”

The organised criminal group behind most of these activities has been betting primarily on the Asian market.

The ringleaders had been identified as of Asian origin, working closely together with European facilitators. During the investigation, links were also found to Russian-speaking and other criminal syndicates.

The international nature of match-fixing, exposed in this case, presents a major challenge to investigators and prosecutors.

One fixed match can involve up to 50 suspects in 10 countries, spanning different legal frameworks and definitions of match-fixing and betting fraud.

Michèle Coninsx, president of Eurojust, said: “International cooperation was the key to the success of this challenging cross-border case, involving more than 30 countries.

“Coordination meetings at Eurojust, including video conferences with Asian counterparts, facilitated the opening of new investigations and the resolution of complex judicial issues. Eurojust provided access to funding for JIT Veto, one of the largest JITs in history.”

The successful outcome of JIT Veto proves both the added value of Eurojust and the JIT Funding Project, which in 2012 financed 62 different JITs involving 22 Member States.

JIT Veto investigations are still ongoing.”

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