After Operacion Puerto, attacking doping in sport out of Spain, football has Operation VETO . . . revealed as the coordinating process between European and international police chasing down matchfixing worldwide.
Europol, the European policing agency, has just pulled together all the strings and tidied up a lot of the information which was out in the public and/or sport domain and which has prompted FIFA, the IOC and UEFA into the heightened state of awareness.
Some 425 officials and players operating in 380 matches in more than 15 countries, mostly in lower divisions, are considered to have been questionable. The highest bribe paid, as far as Europol knows, was €140,000 to fix one game. Payments of up to €100,000 per game were not uncommon.
“This is a sad day for European football,” said Rob Wainwright, head of Europol, describing “matchfixing activity on a scale we have not seen before.”
He repeated the well-aired assertion that much of the criminal activity was generated on behalf of a Singapore-based betting syndicate. Europol’s wider inquiries worldwide generated a list of 700 dubious matches in 30 countries including two Champions League games, one of them in England.
Criminal convictions were reported previously – as was previously known – from Austria, Finland, Germany, Hungary and Slovenia. An ongoing investigation has been under way for the past two years in Italy concerning matches in Serie A and Serie B with links stretching as far back as betting rings in the Far East.
Last month, FIFA security director Ralf Mutschke said more help is needed from national law enforcement agencies and that FIFA had asked Interpol to persuade its members to help protect the world’s most popular sport.
A joint investigation team, codenamed Operation VETO, began formal coordinated work in July 2011. Led by Europol, Germany, Finland, Hungary, Austria and Slovenia, it was also supported by Eurojust, Interpol and investigators from eight other European countries.
The investigation coordinated multiple police inquiries across Europe and was facilitated by intelligence reports from Europol, based on the analysis of 13,000 emails and other material, which identified links between matches and suspects and uncovered the nature of the organised crime network behind the illegal activities.
One fixed match can involve up to 50 suspects in 10 countries, spanning different legal frameworks and definitions of match-fixing and betting fraud.
The investigation has since led to several prosecutions in the countries involved, including Germany where 14 persons have already been convicted and sentenced to a total of 39 years in prison.
On a positive note, Wainwright added: “This this investigation also proves the value of international police cooperation in fighting back against the criminals involved. 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. All those responsible for running football should heed the warnings found in this case.”
Wainwright confirmed that he would share the results of the investigation with UEFA president Michel Platini.
Among the 380 or more suspicious matches identified by this case are World Cup and European Championship qualification matches, two UEFA Champions League matches and several top-flight matches in European national leagues.
In addition another 300 suspicious matches were identified outside Europe, mainly in Africa, Asia, South and Central America
Fridhelm Althans from Bochum Police, Germany, and a spokesman for JIT VETO, said: “We have evidence for 150 of these cases and the operations were run out of Singapore with bribes of up to 100 000 euros paid per match. Even two World Championship qualification matches in Africa, and one in Central America, are under suspicion.”
This information will be shared with Interpol for further action in the context of its long-term efforts to work with a broad community around the world to crack down on this problem.
The organised criminal group behind most of these activities has been betting primarily on the Asian market. The ringleaders had been identified as of Asian origin, working closely together with European facilitators. During the investigation, links were also found to Russian-speaking and other criminal syndicates.
Even though the international nature of match-fixing, exposed in this case, presents a major challenge to investigators and prosecutors, uncertainty still surrounds the reasons why a major fixer, known as Dan Tan, has not been apprehended.