Europol uncovers global soccer match-fixing ring
Agence France-Presse in The Hague
European police warned on Monday that the integrity of soccer was at stake, as they revealed they had smashed a criminal network fixing hundreds of matches, including in the Champions League and World Cup qualifiers.
Europol said a five-country probe had identified 680 suspicious matches targeted by a Singapore-based betting cartel, whose illegal activities stretched to players, referees and officials across the world at all levels of the game.
In the latest claims, 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.
"It is clear to us that this is the biggest investigation ever into suspected match fixing," Europol chief Rob Wainwright told a news conference. "It is the work of a sophisticated organised crime syndicate based in Asia and working with criminal facilitators around Europe," he said.
Wainwright said he would be writing to the head of European football's governing body Uefa, Michel Platini, but said the soccer world needed to "heed the warning" and be on their guard.
The revelations come after Interpol warned last month that global soccer 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 in 2011, which overshadowed the country's preparations for last year's European championships and saw several top players arrested.
Most of the allegedly fixed matches were played in the Turkish, German and Swiss championships, but other matches across the world are concerned.
Two of Europe's Champions League matches and some World Cup qualifiers are also suspected, Europol said.
Criminals made over €8 million (HK$85 million) in profits from betting on fixed matches.