(WFI) Europol director Rob Wainwright tells World Football INSIDER that the results of Europe’s largest matchfixing investigation revealed today, which uncovered 380 suspicious games, should be a wake-up call to UEFA and FIFA to do more to protect the integrity of football.
Players, match and club officials are among the 425 people suspected of being involved in trying to rig the matches, which include World Cup and European Championship qualifiers and two Champions League games in the 18-month probe that ended last month.
Among them is a Champions League game played in England three or four years ago; the clubs have not been identified due to the ongoing investigations of law enforcement agencies.
Europol also did not make clear how many of the suspicious matches were part of match-fixing investigations in Germany and Italy, which have generated huge publicity in the past two years.
Europe’s law enforcement agency said it had “evidence for 150 of these cases and the operations were run out of Singapore with bribes of up to €100,000 ($136,000) paid per match”.
Another 300 suspicious matches outside Europe – in Africa, Asian, south and Central America – are the subject of current investigations by police and governmental agencies, Europol revealed.
Europol said the match-fixing was coordinated by an Asian organised crime syndicate based which operated criminal networks around Europe. Most of the betting has taken place on the Asian market.
Officials described the results as “the tip of the iceberg”.
Wainwright told INSIDER he would be writing to UEFA president Michel Platini to urge European football’s governing body to strengthen its commitment to fighting the scourge of match-rigging. He said FIFA president Sepp Blatter also had to play his part to crack down on match-fixing and illegal gambling.
“The message from these investigations are that this is the first time we have seen organized crime involved to such an extent,” Wainwright said.
“I give them all the encouragement that they need to make sure they take reasonable steps to protect the game
“It’s not just all in their hands. They need to work with many other interested actors in this.
“Certainly at the national level, the football administrators but also in the law enforcement world in the government sector and the betting industry. There has to be a concerted action across those different communities.”
At a press conference in The Hague on Monday, Wainwright told media that he was surprised at the extent of the match-fixing problem. “This is a sad day for European football,” he said, adding that he was encouraged by way football administrators were tackling the problem.
“Criminal syndicates see it as high profit low-risk area of criminal
activity,” he said. “This is a serious problem we are uncovering, for the first time the extent to which it penetrates so many different countries in Europe.”
Wainwright spoke about issues of integrity affecting sport, referencing cycling’s struggle to tackle doping: “In each case it goes to the very heart of the game, the ethos of what the sport is about if we lose that trust in sport being a level playing field which billions of citizens around the world can enjoy then we lose the essence of sport.”
Europol’s investigation, codenamed Operation VETO, involved five countries – Germany, Finland, Hungary, Austria and Slovenia. It was backed by Interpol and investigators from eight other European countries.
Wainwright told the press conference that the probe to launch an international investigation with five EU member states and other countries “reflected growing concerns and growing intelligence that it was a much bigger and wider problem than those first cases suggested”.
The investigation, which included analysis of 13,000 emails, uncovered €8 million ($10.9 million) in betting profits and €2 million ($2.7 million) in bribes to players and officials.
Across the five nations participating in Operation VETO, there have been numerous prosecutions for match-rigging; 14 people in Germany alone were sentenced to a total of 39 years in prison.
Champions League Tie in England Under Scrutiny
Europol declined to reveal the names of the clubs, officials or players involved in the rigged Champions League match in England, citing ongoing judicial proceedings.
“It is clear that the focus of this investigation has been on other countries, not the United Kingdom,” Wainwright told reporters.
“However we were surprised by the scale generally of the criminal enterprise and just how widespread it was.
“It would be naive and complacent of those in the UK to think such a criminal conspiracy does not involve the English game and all the football in Europe.”
Europol also revealed that football matches in The Netherlands and Spain were the subject of current investigations.
Germany’s Bochum Investigations
Police and football authorities in the western German city of Bochum have been probing a match-fixing scandal for nearly four years as part of UEFA’s investigation into around 270 suspicious European matches.
Europol’s Operation VETO has extended the probe into Finland, Hungary, Austria and Slovenia.
Of the 380 suspicious matches in Europe, Turkey (79) and Germany (70) top the table of European countries in the number of cases suspected of being rigged.
Of the 425 match and club officials, players and serious criminals involved, 151 live in Germany and 65 in Turkey.
Andreas Bachmann, head of Bochum’s Prosecution Service, told the Europol press conference that a total of €16 million was wagered on matches with around €2.1 million made in corruption payments.
By INSIDER editor Mark Bisson
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