23 arrested for corrupting football and table tennis tournaments

 Europol has supported a Spanish-led investigation targeting a match-fixing criminal organisation. The investigation involved the Spanish Police (Policía National), the Spanish Tax Agency (Agencia Tributaria) and the Romanian Police (Poliția Română), with additional support from INTERPOL.

In 2020, law enforcement officers detected a number of suspicious online bets on international table tennis tournaments. Subsequent analysis led to the identification of a criminal network composed of Bulgarian and Romanian nationals, established in Spain, who were corrupting athletes mainly from these two same nationalities. The suspects targeted competitions mainly outside of Spain, while the leader of the organisation corrupted athletes playing for several football teams in Romania. They also provided this information to other fixers, and simultaneously managed to gather knowledge about frauds perpetrated by criminal organisations active in the same area.   

Ahead of time

The criminal organisation used a novel modus operandi based on technology: they used satellites to capture the live feeds of competitions before it would reach betting houses. They had also other less sophisticated systems at their disposal, which could detect the signal before it could reach the betting houses. This allowed the network to bet safely and perpetrate the fraud, thanks to this knowledge of the outcome of the matches. 

The suspects used this criminal manoeuvre mainly in Asian and South American soccer leagues and the Bundesliga. However, they also targeted the UEFA Nations League, the 2022 Qatar World Cup, and the ATP and ITF tennis tournaments. To avoid suspicion, they placed their bets in the names of other people, who collected the gains on their behalf. Additionally, the suspects corrupted a trader for a major betting house to secure the successful validation of the bets. 

Overall results 

23 suspects arrested, including the leader of the organisation

4 house searches 

Seizures include 2 real estate properties, 3 luxury vehicle, 2 large satellite dishes and signal receivers, 47 bank accounts, 80 phones, cash and EUR 13 000 in counterfeit banknotes 

Criminal net spread in several countries

The suspected members of the criminal organisation had close ties with other groups active across Europe. The match-fixing network was especially involved in corrupted games in Romania. Therefore, the international cooperation between law enforcement authorities from Spain and Romania, facilitated by Europol, was instrumental for the detection and dismantling of the network. 

During the action day in March, Europol deployed two experts on the ground to provide real-time analytical support and expertise to field investigators. In addition, in the beginning of September 2023, the execution of an International Arrest Warrant led to the extradition to Spain of the main organiser, a former Bulgarian table tennis player. The investigation is still ongoing, as some suspected members of the network are still at large. Investigators are also looking into the identification of corrupted athletes who contributed to the perpetrated frauds.