A global investigation into suspected fixing of soccer matches has uncovered more than 680 suspicious games, including World Cup and European Championships qualifiers.
The probe, conducted by Europol, the European Union’s joint police body, raised questions about 380 matches in Europe and 300 elsewhere, primarily in Africa, Asia and Latin America. The agency said the evidence pointed to the involvement of a Singapore-based crime gang that has long been suspected of fixing matches.
“This is a sad day,” Rob Wainwright, the head of Europol, said at a news conference Monday in The Hague in the Netherlands. Wainwright said 425 match officials, club officials, players and others from at least 15 countries were involved in fixing matches going back to at least 2008. The agency declined to name specific suspects, teams or matches because the investigation is continuing.
But Wainwright left little doubt as to the seriousness of the charges, saying criminals were cashing on soccer corruption “on a scale and in a way that threatens the very fabric of the game.”
Investigators uncovered $10.9 million in betting profits from the fixing of matches and said $2.7 million in bribes were paid to players and officials, findings that have already led to several prosecutions. And that may just be the beginning, suggested German investigator Friedhelm Althans, who said a pair of World Cup qualifiers in Africa and one in Central America were among the matches Europol has focused on.
“This is the tip of the iceberg,” Althans said.
Wainwright said the probe, which began in July 2011, was significant because it was the first one that established substantial evidence that organized crime was operating in global soccer, something that had long been suspected. The Singapore-based crime network spent up to $136,500 per match to bribe players and officials, the investigation found.
Wainwright said stopping the corruption would require a “concerted effort,” adding that the results of the Europol study would be sent to Michel Platini, president of UEFA, which overseas European soccer and organizes the Champions League.
Previous investigations into fixing of soccer matches found that a World Cup qualifier between Finland and Liechtenstein in September 2009 was fixed by a referee from Bosnia. That referee was banned for life.
Last year UEFA expelled a Malta player implicated in fixing a European Championship qualifier between Norway and Malta in June 2007.