In a joint operation, Europol joined forces with Spanish law enforcement agencies, including the Policía National and the Agencia Tributaria, along with assistance from the Romanian Police and INTERPOL, to dismantle a sophisticated match fixing criminal organisation.
This collaborative effort has resulted in the arrest of 23 individuals involved in corrupting football and table tennis tournaments. Their intricate scheme revolved around manipulating livestreams to gain an unfair advantage in placing bets. Effectively, they undermined the integrity of sports competitions.
Suspicious online bets
The investigation initially took root in 2020 when law enforcement officers detected suspicious online bets surrounding international table tennis tournaments. On investigation into this trend, they unveiled a criminal network primarily consisting of Bulgarian and Romanian nationals, operating from Spain. These individuals targeted athletes primarily hailing from their respective nationalities, compromising the competitive spirit of these sports. Furthermore, the criminal ringleader extended their reach into the realm of football, corrupting players from various teams in Romania. In a troubling turn, they shared this illicit knowledge with other fixers while simultaneously gathering intelligence on frauds perpetrated by other criminal organisations in the same sphere.
The criminal organisation leveraged cutting-edge technology, including satellite feeds, to gain the upper hand in their nefarious activities. By capturing live feeds of sporting events before they could reach betting houses, the match-fixers effectively possessed insider information on game outcomes. Their technological arsenal also included less sophisticated methods for signal detection, all designed to secure their fraudulent bets and maximise their illicit gains. The criminal network’s activities spanned multiple continents, with a focus on Asian and South American soccer leagues, the Bundesliga, the UEFA Nations League, the 2022 Qatar World Cup, as well as ATP and ITF tennis tournaments. In an attempt to evade suspicion, the suspects placed bets under the names of third parties. They would then subsequently collect the winnings on their behalf. Additionally, they had corrupted a trader within a prominent betting house to ensure the successful validation of their wagers.
Arrests and seizures
The extensive operation yielded significant results:
- The arrest of 23 suspects, including the organisation’s leader
- Four house searches
- Seizures, including two real estate properties, three luxury vehicles, two large satellite dishes, and signal receivers, 47 bank accounts, 80 phones, cash, and €13,000 in counterfeit banknotes
The reach of the criminal network extended beyond Spain’s borders, with suspected ties to other illicit groups operating throughout Europe. Their influence was particularly evident in corrupted games within Romania, highlighting the importance of international cooperation in tackling this issue. The collaboration between Spanish and Romanian authorities, facilitated by Europol, played a pivotal role in detecting and dismantling the network.
During the operation in March, Europol deployed two experts on the ground to provide real-time analytical support to field investigators. In a significant development in September 2023, an International Arrest Warrant led to the extradition to Spain of the organisation’s main organiser, a former Bulgarian table tennis player. The investigation remains ongoing, with several suspected members of the network still at large. Investigators are also diligently working to identify corrupted athletes who contributed to the perpetration of these fraudulent activities.
This joint effort by law enforcement agencies across Europe sends a clear message: match-fixing and sports corruption will not be tolerated. Europol’s commitment to maintaining the integrity of sports competitions remains unwavering, and they will continue to collaborate with international partners to root out this menace from the world of sports.
Also read: Major cocaine bust