PtG Article 03.12.2009

FIFA call in Interpol to combat illegal betting

FIFA has been forced to call in international crime-fighters Interpol to form a task-force to combat a wave of match-fixing and bribery that is sweeping through the game.

FIFA disclosed the arrangement at its special Executive Committee meeting in Cape Town ahead of the draw for next year’s world cup finals in a week where the number of European countries implicated in match-fixing reached double figures.

“We can't intervene in the law courts of individual countries,” admitted FIFA president Sepp Blatter. “But Interpol will collaborate with us in our struggle and create an international task force to fight illegal and irregular betting on sport, and particularly football. Together, uniting the programmes that are already in place, we will work towards controlling transparency in football.”

The crime organization, which was invited by FIFA to study the security for the 2010 World Cup only last month, already has experience working on football corruption, when it coordinated an operation between May and June 2008 that targeted illegal soccer gambling across Asia that led to 1,300 arrests and U$D 16 million seized in raids on more than 1,000 illegal gambling dens controlled by organized gangs.

Interpol secretary general Ronald Noble said: “We know that illegal sports betting is frequently controlled by organized crime groups willing to corrupt players and officials as well to use force and threats to collect unpaid debts.”Europe remains at the heart of the corruption investigations. This week, the new government secretariat general of sports for Greece, Panos Bitsaxis, handed over details of a UEFA investigation into match-fixing to the Greek judicial authorities for investigation. “I have carefully looked at the UEFA report,” said Bitsaxis. “I have orders from the culture ministry which is in charge of sports to send the report in the next few days to the prosecutor of the Supreme Court and to the Financial Crimes Division of the Finance Ministry. The information I currently have is not enough to press charges against any team. In the past there was talk of match-fixing but authorities turned a blind eye. We will not let such actions overshadow Greek football."

The UEFA report concerns alleged match-fixing in 13 Greek second division fixtures and two Greek Cup matches and involves a dozen clubs. Bitsaxis will not name any clubs or players unless charges are brought. A 2004 UEFA Cup match between Greek club Panionios Athens and Dinamo Tbilisi, which finished 5-2, is also being investigated by UEFA after unusually large amounts of money were waged on the result but no decision has yet been reached.

Earlier this week, the Spanish Football Federation (RFEF) confirmed it is investigating allegations that players betting on the outcome of matches are to be investigated at second division clubs Las Palmas and Rayo Vallecano.Seven players are being investigated in this probe that came after a tip-off from UEFA. Though the RFEF did not disclose any names, Las Palmas chose to do so. Those under suspicion are Francisco Javier Suárez Lizano, Mario Gómez Atanet, Juan Carlos Ceballos Pinto, Raúl Lucha Hurtado, Francisco Medina Luna, Javier Monteys Verdaguer and Javier López Vallejo. The most high profile players are goalkeeper Javier Lopez Vallejo of promoted La Liga club Real Zaragoza and Rayo striker Piti and details have again been handed over to criminal authorities.

“The Committee has transferred to the Attorney General of the State dossier in its possession, it being understood that what happened might take the character of crime or misdemeanor,” said the LFEP (European professional football league?) in a statement.

In November, UEFA named five clubs that it wanted to investigate following allegations of match-fixing in one Champions League qualifier and six Europa League fixtures with KF Tirana and KS Vllaznia of Albania, FC Dinaburg of Latvia, NK IB Ljubljana of Slovenia and Budapest Honved of Hungary. In November, German authorities carried out a series of shock raids and arrests as part of an investigation into a betting ring allegedly fixing matches in top European leagues. Around 200 football matches in nine countries, including at least three Champions League games are implicated in the scandal. Initially, 17 people were arrested in at least six European countries, and there are believed to be around 100 suspects in total. Matches in Turkey were the main focus of investigation.

Two players from the reserve team of Fortuna Dusseldorf were subsequently brought in for questioning by German police. Fortuna’s reserve XI play in the German fourth tier along with SC Verl, whose captain Patrick Neumann is also suspected of involvement along with team-mate Tim Hagedorn. Bavaria’s justice ministry has reportedly drafted a law that would punish match-fixing, doping and other manipulation in sports by up to 15 years. “In Europe, you have the bribery, in Asia you have the betting and in Berlin you have the cashing in,” Joerz Ziercke, the president of the Federal Crime Office, the German equivalent of the FBI, told the Associated Press after the arrest of the two Fortuna players. The German authorities are investigating suspicious games in Austria, Belgium, Bosnia, Croatia, Germany, Hungary, Slovenia, Switzerland and Turkey.