The 96-page dossier looks like the kind of glossy brochure Europes governing soccer organization UEFA uses to market its leading international club competition, the Champions League. The flashy photo on the cover shows two players fighting for the ball with UEFAs motto We Care About Football emblazoned next to it.
But whats inside the report will do little to improve the sports image: it addresses betting manipulation in several big European matches. The dossiers potential impact is so massive that five UEFA officials took it in early November to the headquarters of the European Unions police agency Europol in The Hague to ask for help.
The report details the criminal elements that are threatening the integrity of the sport -- and the billion-dollar entertainment industry built around it -- on a far grander scale than doping ever could. Abusing performance-enhancing drugs might attack the fundamental ideas of fair play and good sportsmanship, but betting scams and match-fixing shake the very foundations of the entire system. It could be soccer, tennis, or basketball: but if the result depends on corrupt backroom deals, the matches become reduced to nothing more than farce.
SPIEGEL has had unprecedented access to the UEFA document, which shows just how deeply an international network of organized crime has already penetrated European club soccer. The betting mafia has apparently bribed players, club officials and even referees to make easy money from gambling. The dossier given to Europol describes in detail how four important European cup matches were allegedly manipulated last summer. It also provides a confidential list of Irregular Betting documenting 26 matches UEFA believes were bought.
At least 15 matches are thought to have been fixed during this season alone, the other 11 games took place from July 2005 through November 2006. They breakdown into the following competitions: 12 qualification matches for the UEFA Cup, eight for the Intertoto Cup, three qualification matches for the Champions League, two UEFA Cup matches, and even one qualification match for the European Championship (Euro 2008) next summer.
The report for Europol cites specific incidents UEFA considers suspicious and provides pages of betting results as supporting evidence. For example, gambling cheats supposedly made €3.4 million ($5 million) alone on the home defeat of the Estonian club FC TVMK Tallinn against Finnish team FC Honka Espoo during an Intertoto Cup match in July.
The performance of another Estonian team, JK Trans Narva, is also thought to have been manipulated. The Estonians lost 0-6 in July to the Swedish club Helsingborgs IF, but even 25 minutes into the match, when the score was still 0-0, live bets wagering the guests would lose by at least three goals were still being made. The estimated winnings totaled at least €1.5 million.
UEFA detailed an even more blatant case of likely match-fixing in mid July during the UEFA Cup contest between Serbian club FK Bezanija and its Albanian opponent KS Besa Kavajë. Most European betting shops placed lower limits on wagers on the game as teams from Albania have a long history of manipulating matches, according to the report prepared for Europol.
But about 45 minutes before kickoff something strange happened: Asian betting shops were suddenly overwhelmed by large sums wagering the favored Serbs would either win by only one goal, draw, or even lose the match. The unexpected flood of money UEFA describes hitting the bookies shortly before the game started caused the Asian market practically to collapse.
The match ended 2-2 with the Albanians managing to get the draw just before the final whistle and the bets placed raked in around €1.5 million. UEFA appears confident that members of the Serbian side were in on the scam: This match followed all the classical signs of a manipulated match.
Only one club on the list of allegedly manipulated matches has so far been brought before UEFAs disciplinary committee. Greek team Egaleo FC accepted a fine of 50,000 Swiss francs (€30,000) for bringing UEFA and its competitions into disrepute during a 1-3 loss to Lithuanian club FK Zalgiris Vilnius in July 2005. But last Thursday, UEFA took up the case of Bulgarian club PFC Cherno More Varna. Officials are convinced the teams players were involved in betting manipulation in a Intertoto Cup match played against Macedonian side FK Makedonija Gorce Petrov.
Asia Is a Paradise for Betting Cheats
Asia, which continues to have a freewheeling gambling scene compared to Europe, is the center of the illegal betting on the UEFA matches. In Europe, gamblers often have to identify themselves, wagers are frequently limited to three-figure euro sums, and high-tech analysis applications like Betradar can sniff out suspicious movements of money in seconds. But Asia remains a paradise for cheats.
Of course, there are also betting limits in Asia, but these are commonly the equivalent of €30,000 to €40,000 and punters are often allowed to place multiple wagers. So-called agents usually place the bets for shadowy moneymen calling from mobile phones in Europe and elsewhere, obscuring the origin of many wagers. There are also codes to inform the agents that a match has been bought. One of them is: The valves are open.
UEFAs dossier for Europol makes very clear the stakes involved: People manipulating a match can easily bet €1 million to €2 million per match and make a similar profit of close to €1million to €2 million. For bigger tournaments the amount can be significantly higher. It's our strong suspicion that agents collecting bets for the Asian betting companies are often playing a major role in manipulating matches.
Betting fraud isnt nothing new to Europes soccer leagues, which have seen more than 20 major scandals since the year 2000. The Italian soccer federation was forced to level monetary fines against three top clubs in the summer of 2006, deducting points against them and even relegating one to a lower division. Six players were banned for several months and the mastermind was ejected from the sport for three years.
In Germany, the Croatian betting kingpin Ante Sapina and the corrupt referee he bought off Robert Hoyzer both landed in jail for manipulating matches. Czech soccer also uncovered gambling cheats -- seven referees and three former club officials were convicted only this October for influencing matches played by top-flight club FC Synot.
But frequently, investigations into such incidents never truly build any momentum. On April 18, the head of Austrias professional soccer league, Georg Pangl, received a call around one hour before kickoff of the first division match between FC Superfund Pasching and SCR Altach explaining that a betting supervisor had observed unusual wagers on halftime bets. Pangl informed the managers of both clubs, but he refrained from filing charges with the police because the way the match played out didnt justify it. However, a police unit reported to Austrias federal criminal investigation agency in Vienna the next day that it had concrete indications about a possible manipulation of the match.
A few weeks later Austria's federal police received another tip-off from their colleagues. This time it concerned suspicious matches involving one Austrian second division team. But there have been no discernable repercussions from these incidents despite the fact Austria will play co-host to the European Championship next summer.
The truth is, national sporting associations simply havent been able to get very far on their own when it comes to investigating suspected betting scams and match-fixing. And UEFA realized this following the case involving the Greek club Panionios GSS FC. In December 2004, the suburban Athens club beat Georgias FC Dinamo Tbilisi 5-2 after being trailing 0-1 at halftime. UEFA believes the match was manipulated on the basis of the starkly different performances by both teams in each half. The soccer officials also believe that "a considerable amount of the betting profit made was used to finance part of the players' salaries.
Integrity of Football Is at Stake
The associations lawyers investigated the case for over a year. They heard the testimony of 12 people involved, including players in Greece, Italy and Georgia their inquiry took them all the way to Australia. As one UEFA official followed the trail to Serbia, he was unmistakably threatened with bodily harm. But the case never came in front of the disciplinary committee due to a lack of substantial evidence.
However, following 15 cases of possible manipulation during this summer alone, it has become clear to everyone at UEFA that the integrity of our competitions is at stake, according to a leading official at the association. We cant touch this network with our regulations and choice of sanctions, we have to rely on international criminal prosecution.
Even before going to Europol, UEFA representatives had sought contact with police agencies. In October, there was meeting to exchange information with officials from Germanys federal investigators for organized crime. Following the meeting in The Hague, UEFA hopes Europol will add a new category on betting manipulation in professional sports into its Organized Crime Threat Assessment, which sets international policing priorities each year.
Officials at Europol are particularly interested in the topic of money laundering and theres no doubt that gambling fraud is the perfect way to put money from the drug trade, prostitution, or weapons deals into circulation while adding a tidy profit on the top at the same time.
The latest blow by Interpol against the illegal betting scene in Asia confirmed seems to confirm these assumptions. In October and November, investigators arrested more than 400 suspects following a five-month operation. They confiscated almost half a million euros, as well as computers, bank cards, mobile phones and cars, and closed almost 300 illegal bookie operations. Interpol announced from its headquarters in Lyon, France two weeks ago that Operation SOGA -- for Soccer Gambling -- had greatly reduced the influence of organized criminal gangs in Asia.
Closer to home, UEFA is particularly concerned about Eastern Europe. Most of the clubs on the list thought to be involved in match-fixing come from Bulgaria, Georgia, Serbia, Croatia, Albania, Macedonia, Bosnia-Herzegovina and the Baltic states. It was the soccer associations from these countries that helped the new UEFA President Michel Platini unseat the longtime incumbent Lennart Johansson in January. At the time, the Frenchman Platini had promised to increase eastern clubs access to the Champions League.
Its exactly these people that UEFA now has to deal with, says a police official familiar with the case. They have no other choice."