Case Studies

Football reacts to fixing

by Mark Rowe

An extensive criminal network has been involved in widespread football match-fixing according to the Dutch-based policing body Europol and police from 13 European countries. 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. Europol described it as part of a sophisticated organised crime operation, which generated more than eight million euros in betting profits and involved over two million euros in corrupt payments to those involved in the matches.

The Joint Investigation Team (JIT), 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 co-ordinated multiple police enquiries 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. 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.

Rob Wainwright, Director of Europol, said: “This is a sad day for European football and more evidence of the corrupting influence in society of organised crime. But 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.”

He confirmed that he will be sharing 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.

“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,” said Fridhelm Althans from Bochum Police, Germany, and a spokesman for JIT Veto. This information will be shared with Interpol for further action; the international policing body has agreed to work with world football body FIFA.

“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.

The organised criminal group behind most of these activities has been betting primarily on the Asian market. The ringleaders are of Asian origin, 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 presents a challenge to investigators and prosecutors, as police admitted. One fixed match can involve up to 50 suspects in 10 countries, spanning legal frameworks and definitions of match-fixing and betting fraud.

Ms Michèle Coninsx, President of Eurojust, said: “International cooperation was the key to the success of this challenging cross-border case, involving more than 30 countries. Co-ordination meetings at Eurojust, including video conferences with Asian counterparts, facilitated the opening of new investigations and the resolution of complex judicial issues. Eurojust provided access to funding for JIT Veto, one of the largest JITs in history.” According to the Euro-body the outcome of JIT Veto proved the added value of Eurojust and the JIT Funding Project, which in 2012 financed 62 JITs involving 22 EU member states.

JIT Veto investigations are continuing. For the press conference at Europol visit – https://www.europol.europa.eu/content/results-largest-football-match-fixing-investigation-europe

As reported in the February print issue of Professional Security, January saw the official start of a European Cybercrime Centre (EC3) at Europol, the Euro-police body. Based at The Hague, it’s tasked with tackling organised crime groups doing online fraud; online child sexual exploitation; and cyber-crime threatening critical infrastructure and information systems in the European Union.

Visit https://www.europol.europa.eu

Comment

Simone Farina in 2011 was offered money to influence the outcome of a Coppa Italia game against Cesena. Farina instead refused the bribe and reported the incident to the authorities, resulting in the arrest of 17 people. Now a FIFA Ambassador for Fair Play, he said: “This is not a problem only in Italy or any one particular country, this is an international problem and the scale of it really saddens me,. It is vital that there is complete collaboration with FIFA and Interpol, so that the problem can be tackled properly and we no longer have such scandal in the game.

“The responsibility lies with the players and officials of football clubs. The management of the clubs have to act and support the players and support the authorities in their investigations. They cannot leave players isolated and afraid to speak out when they are confronted by the wrong individuals. Players need to feel empowered and supported in order to be able to report what they need to when they are approached by organised syndicates.

“Match-fixing has no place in football. It is a blight on the game, and for the future of the game we need to tackle it and overcome it now.”

FIFA President Sepp Blatter, speaking in Zurich, said: “Almost 300 million people play football in the world. This extraordinary popularity gives us responsibilities. One of them – a major one – is to protect the integrity of the game. Match-fixing endangers exactly that. We’re already doing a lot – the early warning system, our partnership with Interpol, the creation of a FIFA Security Division, etc. – but, in addition to that, what is necessary is the solidarity of everyone involved in the game. In particular, whenever a match-fixing attempt is noticed, this has to be reported to the relevant bodies. This is crucial

At anti-corruption campaign body, Transparency International, Deborah Wise Unger described the Europol news as shocking. She blogged: “All those involved in football including clubs, no matter how big or how small, have to become part of the solution to this problem. It is not enough to track betting, which Europol and Interpol can do.

What football needs, and what it is trying to develop, is effective education and prevention programmes that sensitises everyone involved in the game to the perils of match fixing and helps them resist the temptation. And the organisations that run football, from FIFA through to the continental and national federations, need to demonstrate good governance themselves in order that one message is clear from the top to the bottom of football: corruption is not tolerated in football.

“On the issue of prevention and education, in the past year the European Commission has made fighting match fixing a top priority. Organisations inside and outside football, including Transparency International, have submitted proposals to pilot programmes on how to end this scourge through prevention and education. In the next 18 months as these projects unfold more education tools, codes of conduct and research into how best to stop match fixing will be announced.

“All this activity is to be welcomed. In the past there was a view that if we found the organised criminals we could eliminate the organised crime. At Transparency International we know that there are two sides to any bribe, the bribe giver and the bribe taker, and that stopping corruption requires action on both sides.

“In the case of the bribe taker in football, there are many reasons why players, officials and those involved in the sport are vulnerable. In some leagues players are not paid on time and debts pile up; in others criminals target younger players, encourage them to bet and then they get in over their heads. The scenarios are many and often not black and white, which is why it is so important that those involved in the game who might one day become the target of a bribe giver know what might happen and what they can do if it does.

“In business and in government Transparency International advocates whistle-blower protection laws and mechanisms to help people report wrongdoing in a safe environment. The same is true for football. People need to know that they can report wrongdoing and not be victimised or put in danger. There are several proposals for anonymous whistleblowing hotlines and ombudsmen to act in leagues. This requires study to establish what is best practice. In tennis, for example, players are obliged to report anyone who tries to bribe them to fix a match even if they say no to the bribe because this alerts the authorities to the fact that there are fixers at large. Should this be the same in football?

“The fans of football also have a responsibility to get involved. They need to demand their clubs adhere to best practice in governance and introduce and follow through on the prevention and education programmes.” Visit http://blog.transparency.org

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