Warning the integrity of the world’s favourite sport was at stake, Europol said a five-country probe had identified 380 suspicious matches targeted by a Singapore-based betting cartel. The illegal activities included bribing 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,” Europol chief Rob Wainwright told a news conference in The Hague. “It is the work of a sophisticated organised crime syndicate based in Asia and working with criminal facilitators around Europe.”
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.
Most of the allegedly fixed matches were played in the Turkish, German and Swiss championships, but other matches around the world are also of concern. Two of Europe’s Champions League matches and some World Cup qualifiers were also suspected, Europol said.
German chief investigator Friedhelm Althans said that showed “the true 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.
“Operating from Singapore by heads of this organisation, bribes of up to €100,000 per match were paid in cash, which was taken all over the world by money couriers,” he added.
Althans said around 70 matches in Germany were under suspicion.
“If that figure is true, it would be terrifying,” said Germany national team manager Oliver Bierhoff.
The BBC reported that the criminals made upwards of €8 million from the manipulated German games.
Wainwright said he would be writing to the head of European football’s governing body UEFA, Michel Platini, but said all of football needed to “heed the warning” and be on 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 gun-running and in the wake of 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.
No details were given about which top-flight matches were involved because some investigations were still on-going, although it was revealed that one of the Champions League matches had been played in England.
Criminals made over $11 million in profits from betting on fixed matches.
Europol showed television coverage of a suspect match, an international between Argentina and Bolivia, during which a Hungarian referee awards a highly dubious penalty.