A “sophisticated organised crime operation” stretching all the way to Asia bribed officials and rigged over 380 football matches in Europe, generating some €8 million in profit, EU’s police agency (Europol) has uncovered.
“This is a sad day for European football and more evidence of the corrupting influence in society of organised crime,” Europol chief Rob Wainwright said Monday (4 February) in the Hague.
He said the sheer size of the illegal profits “threatens the very fabric of the game”. A total of 425 football officials, players and serious criminals from more than 15 countries are suspected of being involved. Some €2 million were paid out in bribes.
Europol said it used intelligence from 13,000 emails connecting the dots between suspects and establishing the links with organised crime networks in Asia. Several prosecutions have already started, with 14 people convicted in Germany.
Among the 380 rigged matches in Europe between 2008 and 2011 are World Cup and European Championship qualification matches, two UEFA Champions League matches and several top-flight matches in European national leagues. Another 300 suspicious matches were identified outside Europe, mainly in Africa, Asia, South and Central America.
“We have evidence for 150 of these cases and the operations were run out of Singapore with bribes of up to €100,000 paid per match. Even two World Championship Qualification matches in Africa, and one in Central America, are under suspicion,” a German police officer present at the briefing said Monday.
The organised criminal group behind most fixed matches has been betting primarily on the Asian market, Europol says. The ringleaders are of Asian origin, working closely together with European facilitators. During the investigation, links were also found to Russian-speaking and other criminal syndicates.
Europol would not name any individual clubs, but its chief said “it would be naive and complacent to think” that no English clubs were involved.
A Danish football club, Vestsjaelland FC, has meanwhile been suspended for six months from the national league as a consequence of the Europol probe. One of its players, Kristoffer Wichmann, is accused of having placed bets on the outcome of his club’s games. Wichmann denies the charges.
Meanwhile, Fifa, the global football association, has called for tougher prison sentences for those convicted of match-fixing. Fifa can impose lifelong bans for players, but “for people outside of football, the custodial sentences are too weak, and offer little to deter someone from getting involved in match-fixing,” Ralf Mutschke, Fifa’s head of security and a former Interpol official told The Guardian.