Madrid: Spanish police have made widespread arrests following an investigation into tennis match-fixing by an organised Armenian criminal gang.
Eleven house searches were carried out in Spain and 167,000 euros ($268,620) in cash were seized, along with a shotgun, more than 50 electronic devices, credit cards, five luxury vehicles and documentation related to the case.
Forty-two bank accounts have been frozen.
Spanish police said in a statement 15 people had been arrested, including the leaders of the criminal organisation, while a further 68 people have been investigated.
Of the 83 people implicated in the case, 28 were professional tennis players including one, whose identity was not revealed, who competed at the 2018 US Open.
European Union law enforcement agency Europol, which supported the Spanish operation, said at least 97 matches from lower-tier Futures and Challenger tournaments were fixed.
News of the arrests came a day after the Tennis Integrity Unit (TIU) revealed that in 2018 more tennis players were disciplined for violations of anti-corruption rules than in any other year since the body’s creation.
Such events represent the second and third tiers of professional tennis, where unknown professional players toil at hundreds of barely noticed tournaments each year with hopes of acquiring the points needed to move up the rankings.
‘‘The suspects bribed professional players to guarantee predetermined results and used the identities of thousands of citizens to bet on the prearranged games,’’ Europol said in a news release.
‘‘A criminal group of Armenian individuals used a professional tennis player, who acted as the link between the gang and the rest of the criminal group. Once they bribed the players, the Armenian network members attended the matches to ensure that the tennis players complied with what was previously agreed, and gave orders to other members of the group to go ahead with the bets placed at national and international level.’’
It’s the second time in a little more than two years that law-enforcement officials have cracked down on match fixing on the Iberian peninsula.
In December 2016, Spanish law enforcement officials detained 34 people, including six tennis players ranked between Nos. 800 and 1200 in the world, alleging they were involved in a match-fixing network in Spain and Portugal.
The players allegedly received about $US1000 per match for losing specific points or games in 17 Futures and Challenger tournaments in Spain.
Therein lies one of the reasons match-fixing is so prevalent at these lower-tier events: The prize money involved is often paltry, giving players an incentive to throw matches at tournaments in far-flung locales that few people are watching.
For instance, a 24-year-old Spaniard named David Perez Sanz won six titles on the ITF Futures Tour last year - five in Egypt and one in Sri Lanka - but took home less than $US20,000 in tournament winnings for the year.
For comparison’s sake, Roger Federer received nearly $4.5 million alone for winning last year’s Australian Open. Players who lost first-round matches at the US Open received $US50,000.
Reuters, Washington Post