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Football: Europol uncovers vast match-fixing ring

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(Globalpost/GlobalPost)

European police warned Monday that the integrity of football was at stake, as they revealed they had unearthed a criminal network fixing hundreds of matches, including in the Champions League and World Cup qualifiers.

Europol said a five-country probe had identified 380 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.

"It is clear to us that this is the biggest investigation ever into suspected match fixing," Europol chief Rob Wainwright told a news conference in The Hague, adding that the fall-out hit at the heart of the world game's reputation.

"It is the work of a sophisticated organised crime syndicate based in Asia and working with criminal facilitators around Europe," said Wainwright.

He added: "Matchfixing is a significant threat to football... involving a broad community of actors. Illegal profits are being made that threatens the very fabric of the game."

Wainwright said he would be writing to Michel Platini, the head of European football's governing body UEFA, but said all of football needed to "heed the warning" and be on their guard.

The revelations come after Interpol last month warned that global football 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, which overshadowed the country's preparations for last year's European championships and saw several top footballers arrested.

Interpol chief Ronald Noble said last November that it expected to make arrests in Singapore over the Italian match-fixing scandal after links were suspected between one player arrested and crimelord Tan Seet Eng or Dan Tan.

As part of investigations, 14 people have already been sentenced to a total of 39 years in prison, Europol said, with more than 100 prosecutions expected.

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.

Of this total, 151 are living in Germany, 66 in Turkey and 29 in Switzerland, but suspects fixing matches in other parts of Europe and around the world are also concerned.

Two of Europe's Champions League matches and some World Cup qualifiers are also suspected, Europol said.

No details were given about which top-flight matches were involved because some investigations were still on-going, although it was revealed that one of the Champions League matches had been played in England.

The largest bet profit Europol did reveal, was 700,000 euros ($950,000) in an Austrian Bundesliga game between Redbull Salzburg and Hartberg, but the policing agency gave no further details.

Criminals made over eight million euros in profits from betting on fixed matches, while some two million euros in cash and profits were seized.

Europol showed television coverage of a suspect match, a junior international between Argentina and Bolivia, during which a Hungarian referee awards a highly dubious penalty in extra time.

The probe was carried out by Europol and five European countries: Germany, Hungary, Slovenia, Finland and Austria.

A further 300 suspicious matches have been identified outside Europe in Africa, Asia, and South and Central America, in the course of the investigation, Europol said.

German chief investigator Friedhelm Althans said that showed the truly "horrifying nature of the problem" and the implications were stark, including financial losses for legal betting firms, clubs, players and the trust of the supporting public.

FIFA's own "corruption-buster", former Interpol executive Ralph Mutschke, also said last month that no league in the world was safe from corruption, amid calls for legislation to tackle the scourge of bribery in sport.

The international nature of match-fixing was highlighted by the case involving Singapore businessman Wilson Raj Perumal, who was suspected of rigging games in several countries and was jailed in Finland in 2011.

His name was also cited in cases in South Africa and Zimbabwe.

Europol however declined Monday to link Perumal to suspected cases of match fixing, saying it did not want to reveal names of any suspects involved.

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http://www.globalpost.com/dispatch/news/afp/130204/football-europol-uncovers-vast-match-fixing-ring-0