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Football match-fixing – investigations continue

The EU’s law enforcement agency, Europol, announced last month that a major investigation has uncovered an extensive criminal network involved in widespread football match-fixing.

A total of 425 match officials, club officials, players, and serious criminals, from more than 15 countries, are suspected of being involved in attempts to fix more than 380 professional football matches.

The activities formed part of a sophisticated organised crime operation, which, says Europol, generated over €8 million in betting profits and involved over €2 million in corrupt payments to those involved in the matches.

Background

A Joint Investigation Team, codenamed Operation VETO, ran between July 2011 and January 2013. 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 enquiries across Europe and was facilitated by intelligence reports from Europol, which identified links between matches and suspects and uncovered the nature of the organised crime network behind the illegal activities.

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.

Not a new problem

Match-fixing is a serious global problem, affecting most, if not all, countries in the world.

Recent examples include the suspension of a Finnish football team in 2011 – according to the Guardian, this was because they were unable to explain why they had received €300,000 from a Singapore based company – and an announcement from FIFA late last month, extending disciplinary sanctions imposed on 58 individuals relating to domestic match-fixing and bribery investigations in China PR.

Extent of the Europol investigation

According to Europol, this investigation has identified 380 or more suspicious matches, including 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.

Criminal networks

The organised criminal groups behind most of these activities has been betting primarily on the Asian market, says Europol.

The ringleaders are Asian, working closely together with European facilitators. During the investigation, links were also found to Russian-speaking and other criminal syndicates.

The international nature of match-fixing, exposed in this case, presents a major challenge to investigators and prosecutors, says the enforcement agency. One fixed match can involve up to 50 suspects in 10 countries, spanning different legal frameworks and definitions of match-fixing and betting fraud.

“Match fixing is a global issue requiring strong partnerships at the national, regional and international levels not only to target and dismantle the criminal networks making millions in illicit profits, but also to implement training programmes to better protect all those involved in football,” said Mr Gianni Baldi, Head of Interpol’s Drugs and Organized Crime Unit.