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SBD Global/February 5, 2013/International Football

Europol Exposes Match-Fixing Scam Affecting Hundreds Of Matches In England, Europe

Muenchen's Franck Ribery reacts during the Champions League Group F match against Bayern Nov. 7. Europol said Champions League matches were among those fixed.
Hundreds of football matches have been fixed in a global betting scam run from Singapore in "a blow to the image of the world's most popular sport" and a multibillion-dollar industry, according to Thomas Escritt of REUTERS. About 680 "suspicious matches," including qualifying games for the World Cup and European Championships, and the Champions League for top European club sides, have been identified in an inquiry by European police forces, the European anti-crime agency Europol, and national prosecutors. Europol Dir Rob Wainwright said, "This is a sad day for European footbal. This is now an integrity issue for football. Those responsible for running the games should hear the warnings." The matches in question, some of which "have already been subject to successful criminal prosecutions," were played between '08-11. About 380 of the matches in question were played in Europe, and another 300 were identified in Africa, Asia, and Latin America (REUTERS, 2/4). BLOOMBERG's Christopher Elser reported an 18-month investigation called Operation VETO found 425 match officials, club execs, players and criminals in 15 countries "worked to cheat." Wainwright said, "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." Europol worked with police from 13 countries in the probe, which was completed last month. It examined 13,000 emails and other materials, and has "led to several prosecutions." In Germany, 14 people have been convicted and have been sentenced to 39 years in prison (BLOOMBERG, 2/4).

ORGANIZED CRIME SYNDICATE: In N.Y., Sam Borden reported match-fixing, the sport's "ugliest side," will not go away. Fixers typically seek to dictate a game’s result by "corrupting the players or the on-field officials." Officials said that roughly 425 people were "under suspicion because of the investigation, with 50 people having been arrested." An organized crime syndicate based in Asia is "believed to be the driving force behind the fixing activity," which stretches across at least 15 countries. Individual bribes were as high as $136,000, and fixers would "place bets on the tainted matches through bookmakers in Asia." Officials at Monday's news conference "repeatedly dodged questions from reporters" on how many of the 680 matches cited were previously known. Officials also refused to identify the teams and individuals newly linked to match-fixing, citing "the need to guard the confidentiality of police procedures" (N.Y. TIMES, 2/4).

TIP OF THE ICEBERG: FORBES' Chris Smith reported investigators found that $2.7M "was paid out as bribes to players and officials." Another $10.9M was won as "related gambling profits." However, those amounts are "just what investigators could definitively prove." As one investigator put it, Monday's report is just "the tip of the iceberg" (FORBES, 2/4). The AFP reported Europol showed TV coverage of a suspect match -- a junior int'l between Argentina and Bolivia -- during which a Hungarian referee "awards a highly dubious penalty at the end of the game." German Chief Investigator Friedhelm Althans said it showed the truly "horrifying nature of the problem." Althans added that "the implications were stark, including financial losses for legal betting firms, clubs, players and the trust of the supporting public" (AFP, 2/4). In N.Y., Simon Zekaria reported UEFA is "cooperating with authorities and will review the results of the probe" when it receives further details, expected this week. FIFA was "unavailable for comment." The Premier League also was "unavailable for comment." Links were also found to "Russian-speaking and other criminal syndicates" (WALL STREET JOURNAL, 2/4).

ENGLAND GAME IN QUESTION: In London, Simon Rice reported a Champions League tie played in England "is among 380 suspicious matches in Europe uncovered." The specific match in England officials believe was corrupt "has not been revealed," although it took place in the last four years. Premier League sides ManU, Manchester City, Arsenal, Tottenham, Liverpool and Chelsea have all featured in the competition in recent years (INDEPENDENT, 2/4). The BBC reported Wainwright declined to identify the match because of "ongoing judicial proceedings" when asked specifically about the allegations surrounding the Champions League tie held in England. However, he did say that it happened in the last three to four years. Wainwright: "The focus has been on other countries, not the United Kingdom" (BBC, 2/4). In London, Tom Collomosse reported Wainwright said that it is to be expected that the English game was affected. Wainwright: "It would be naive and complacent of those in the U.K. to think such a criminal conspiracy does not involve the English game and all the football in Europe." Arsenal and England forward Theo Walcott was "stunned by the revelations," telling a press conference ahead of Wednesday’s friendly with Brazil: "I’m completely shocked. I don’t want to be related to anything like that, and I’m sure none of you guys want to either. It’s something we need to get out of the game" (EVENING STANDARD, 2/4). Also in London, Rob Burnett reported Wainwright said that while many fixed matches were already known, the Europol investigation "lifted the lid on the widespread involvement or organised crime in rigging games." Wainwright: "This is the first time we have established substantial evidence that organized crime is now operating in the world of football" (DAILY MIRROR, 2/4). In a statement, UEFA said, "UEFA is aware of the statements made by Europol regarding the alleged match-fixing that has taken place in various football competitions and expects to receive further information in the coming days. As part of the fight against the manipulation of matches, UEFA is already co-operating with the authorities on these serious matters as part of its zero-tolerance policy towards match-fixing in our sport" (LONDON TIMES, 2/4).

FACTS NEEDED: In London, Owen Slot noted Wainwright said at the press conference, "We think we have uncovered a big problem for the integrity of football in Europe. Slot opined, "I don’t 'think' that is a big problem. I am mighty sure that is a big problem. Plain and simple: for sport to work, it needs its integrity and the foundation has to be that it is believable. The news from The Hague tells us that what we have been watching is not" (LONDON TIMES, 2/4). Also in London, David Conn opined on the GUARDIAN's The Sport Blog there was "just a hint of irritation" from the FA, UEFA and FIFA in their response to Europol. It "could be suspected that Europol was trying to make a name for itself," by announcing match-fixing allegations, "many of which remain vague and unspecified." Match-fixing in football "provided a fittingly headline-grabbing subject for a press conference." Nobody is "saying it isn't so, that the danger is not real, or difficult to detect." Now the world "waits to see how many of these matches will produce evidence" (GUARDIAN, 2/4).

LA LIGA SAFE: The EFE reported Althans said that Spanish football was not implicated in the scandal. Althans said, "In none of the cases investigated has their been manipulations in La Liga. In addition, no clubs, players or Spanish referees have been involved." He added the only connection with Spain was "in some cases, the games were played on Spanish territory" (EFE, 2/4).

GERMAN INVOLVEMENT: BILD reported "the three most-affected nations in the betting scandal are Turkey with 79, Germany with 70 and Switzerland with 49 suspicious games." Europol "did not reveal any details about specific games." The fraudsters have generated €8M ($10.8M) through match-fixing in Europe alone (BILD, 2/4).

From SÜDDEUTSCHE ZEITUNG, in German.

From LE FIGARO, in French.
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