World Cup and European Championship qualifiers were among more than 380 professional soccer matches targeted by criminals trying to fix games to generate more than 8 million euros ($10.9 million) in profit, according to the region’s law enforcement agency.
An 18-month investigation, Operation VETO, found 425 match officials, club executives, players and criminals in 15 countries worked to cheat. The games included international and Champions League matches, Europol said today in an e-mailed statement. Some investigations are continuing, it said.
“Europol and its law enforcement partners are committed to pursuing serious criminals wherever they operate,” said Rob Wainwright, director of Europol. “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.”
Europol worked with police from 13 countries in the probe, which ended last month. It looked at 13,000 e-mails and other materials, and has led to several prosecutions, the agency said. In Germany, 14 people have been convicted and have been sentenced to 39 years in prison.
World Cup and European Championship qualification matches, two UEFA Champions League matches and several top-flight games in European national leagues were among the suspicious matches identified, Europol said. Another 300 matches outside Europe, mainly in Africa, Asia, South and Central America may have also been targeted, it 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,” Friedhelm Althans, a spokesman for Operation VETO from the police in Bochum, Germany, said in the statement. “Even two World Championship qualification matches in Africa, and one in Central America, are under suspicion.”
UEFA, soccer’s governing body in Europe, said it was aware of the allegations and was working with Europol.
“Once the details of these investigations are in UEFA’s hands, then they will be reviewed by the appropriate disciplinary bodies in order that the necessary measures are taken,” UEFA said today in an e-mailed statement.
The organizers were fixing games and betting on Asian markets, the investigators said. While many were Asian, connections to Russian crime groups also emerged, Europol said.
The information will be shared with international police bodies, including Interpol, as part of the effort to crack down on the criminals, Europol said.