World Cup qualifying and Champions League matches are among those allegedly targeted by Asian match fixing ring
THE HAGUE, NETHERLANDS (FEBRUARY 4, 2013) (REUTERS) - Hundreds of soccer matches have been fixed in a global betting scam run from Singapore, police said on Monday (February 4), in a blow to the image of the world's most popular sport and a multi-billion dollar industry.
About 680 suspicious matches including qualifying games for the World Cup and European Championships, and the Champions League for top European club sides, have been identified in an inquiry by European police forces, the European anti-crime agency Europol, and national prosecutors.
The world's most popular sport, soccer is played on every continent. The World Cup and Europe's Champions League are beamed worldwide and generate billions of dollars for national associations, clubs and broadcasters.
The matches in question were played between 2008 and 2011, the investigators said. About 380 of the suspicious matches were played in Europe, and a further 300 were identified in Africa, Asia, and Latin America.
Corruption linked to Asian betting syndicates and organised crime has long been seen as a threat to the game, but Monday's announcement underlines the scale of the problem.
"Yes, at the first look it seems to be very shocking," he said. "If the numbers were accurate than it really would be shocking."
Former Australian international Robbie Slater, who played the majority of his career inEurope, explained how the scandal might have dire implications for growing leagues, such as the Australian A-League, even though they have not been implicated in the investigation.
"Certainly the Hyundai A-League is a very new competition, I'd be surprised if anything's gone on here but when you look at the amount of competitions that have been mentioned in this scandal you can't rule anything out," he said.
"Other countries it will survive because football is such a culture but if this is that deep it can hurt the game in this country, not because necessarily anything's happened in this country but the name of football, because, nobody, particularly Australians, they don't like cheats. Anything that could hurt our code, if it's global, if it's that deep it certainly can have an affect on us."
Last year the head of an anti-corruption watchdog estimated that $1 trillion was gambled on sport each year - or $3 billion a day - with most coming from Asia and wagered on soccer matches.
A German investigator described a network involving couriers ferrying bribes around the world, paying off players and referees in the fixing which involved about 425 corrupt officials, players and serious criminals in 15 countries.
Singapore police said last month that they were helping Italian authorities to investigate alleged soccer match fixing involving a Singaporean, but said he had not been arrested or charged with any offence there.
German investigators said international matches were implicated as were games inTurkey, Germany, Switzerland, Belgium, Croatia, Austria, Hungary, Bosnia, Slovenia andCanada. Suspicious games had also been identified in Africa, Asia and Latin America.
Fourteen people have already been convicted in Germany in connection with the investigation.
Austrian prosecutors are investigating 20 people, including players, on suspicion of fraud and money laundering linked to fixing and betting on soccer matches, a spokesman for prosecutors in the city of Graz said.
Investigators said no names of players or clubs would be released while the investigation proceeded. However, the fixing also included top flight national league matches in several European countries, as well as two Champions League matches, including one played in Britain.
UEFA, European soccer's governing body, said it expected to receive further information from Europol in the coming days.
"As part of the fight against the manipulation of matches, UEFA is already cooperating with the authorities on these serious matters as part of its zero tolerance policy towards match-fixing in our sport," it added.
British media have suggested that Liverpool's Champions League game against Hungarian side Debrecen in 2009 is one of the matches being investigated, however theEnglish Football Association said it was not aware of any "credible reports into suspicious Champions League fixtures in England."
Soccer has been affected by bribery scandals in the past, with the English game suffering in the 1960s and Italian soccer hit by a series of fixing cases in recent years.
The growth of televised sport and technology that allows gamblers to bet during a match have created fresh opportunities for fraudsters with links to organised crime.
Investigators described how gang members immediately subordinate to the Singapore-based leader of a worldwide network were each tasked with maintaining contacts with corrupt players and officials in their parts of the world.
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