Football is money laundering paradise for organised crime groups

Match-fixing in sports is increasingly being used by organised crime groups to launder large sums of dirty money, according to a recent Europol report

Football is the most targeted and manipulated sport by international organised crime groups because if its worldwide popularity, financial dimension and large turn-over betting market attached to it
Football is the most targeted and manipulated sport by international organised crime groups because if its worldwide popularity, financial dimension and large turn-over betting market attached to it

Match-fixing in sports is increasingly being used by organised crime groups to launder large sums of dirty money, according to a recent Europol report.

The situation report released last month by the EU law enforcement agency warns that sports corruption is often addressed only from the perspective of sports integrity because practitioners lack awareness on the involvement of organised crime.

Europol’s analysis identified links between the individuals involved in the manipulation of sports competitions at a lower level for merely financial gain, and other more sophisticated criminal networks behind the scenes.

“These criminal networks are often the ‘engine’ behind sports corruption, and often use this criminal activity to launder their illicitly obtained assets,” Europol said.

Football is the most targeted and manipulated sport by international organised crime groups because if its worldwide popularity, financial dimension and large turn-over betting market attached to it.

The size of the global betting market is estimated at €1.7 trillion, with football on its own accounting for €895 million.

Europol warned that South-East Asian, and particularly Chinese, networks were trying to acquire smaller football clubs in financial difficulty for the purpose of sport manipulation.

“Individuals and companies are involved in taking control, or attempting to do so, of EU football clubs for the purpose of betting-related match-fixing. Details of the concrete involvement of Chinese organised crime groups operating in or having an impact on the EU in sports corruption remain a major intelligence gap,” Europol said.

Buying or sponsoring clubs

Europol said the more ‘professional’ method used by certain crime groups was to buy a club, or sponsor it to an extent of gaining effective control over the team.

The targeted club is bought for the sole purpose of fixing matches and to launder money.

“High illegal gains are secured through the execution of an extended series of manipulated matches for betting purposes,” Europol said.

This is an increasing trend especially in football, where clubs of lower divisions, sometimes beset by heavy financial problems, are taken over by foreign individuals and companies.

Europol said that it is commonly observed that the new investors of a club will transfer specifically selected foreign players in the targeted teams and use them to execute match-fixing schemes.

Europol said the current intelligence picture indicates the existence of indigenous crime groups that originate from, and operate in the EU, in addition to other international organisations from Asia, Russian-speaking countries and Armenia.

Europol said these organisations tend to use established legal businesses to move their money through the sports world.

The legal structures are most often players’ agent companies, organisers of sporting events, gambling-related companies, or even football clubs that are partially or fully owned by top individuals involved in sports corruption, Europol warned.

The criminal structures are multi-layered with the financers sitting at the top of the pyramid that also includes intermediaries at national and local level.

At the bottom of the structure are the players, referees and officials, who are paid off to fix matches.

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