More than 4,100 people were arrested in coordinated raids across 11 different countries during Euro 2016, in the latest global police operation mounted against illegal gambling on major football tournaments.
Nearly 4,000 raids were carried out in China, France, Greece, Italy, Malaysia, Singapore, Thailand and Vietnam as part of Operation SOGA VI – the sixth investigation into football gambling by Interpol, the organisation that facilitates cross-border police work. SOGA is short for “soccer gambling”.
A second operation, called Aces, targeted illicit betting websites and call centre operations in Cambodia, South Korea, the Philippines, Thailand and Vietnam.
Interpol said that about £10m was seized in the two operations, while the agency estimates that during Euro 2016 nearly £500m in bets was handled by what it calls “illegal gambling dens”.
Jim Anderson, the head of Interpol’s anti-corruption and financial crimes unit, said: “Illegal gambling generates massive profits for organised crime networks which are often linked to corruption, human trafficking and money laundering.”
The six SOGA operations have resulted in more than 12,500 arrests, the seizure of £40m in cash and the closure of more than 3,400 operations that handled almost £4.85bn-worth of bets, Interpol said.
Apart from the first SOGA operation – which was announced in November 2007 – the results of the initiative’s five other iterations have been unveiled in 2008, 2010, 2012, 2014 and 2016, immediately after a major football tournament.
After SOGA II – which was timed to coincide with the Euro 2008 championships – Interpol said: “The effect this operation has achieved is substantial, not only in terms of breaking up illegal gambling dens and criminal networks, but in demonstrating the impact that co-operation through Interpol internationally can have at the national and local levels.”
However, the fact that the operations are still being trumpeted eight years later has caused some in the gambling industry to question the efficacy of SOGA and suggest that the announcements are merely part of a routine Interpol publicity campaign.
Chris Eaton, a former senior policeman from Australia who has since worked for Interpol and the International Centre for Sports Security in Qatar, told the Press Association: “Interpol has been coordinating anti-sport gambling operations in Asia for years now, always with big arrest and seizure figures of the easy-to-detect smaller street operators.
“The big organised online gambling operators turning over billions – often infiltrated if not controlled by criminals in safe-haven countries like the Philippines and Malaysia – escape this attention.
“These big international operators under quasi-legal cover are massively vulnerable to fraud and are the source of most of the cash that funds and inspires match-fixing. Small-scale and token police operations look good, but tend to enhance the mega-illegal operators by cutting out the smaller ones. In this sense it is counter-intuitive”.
“Only co-ordinated global government intervention will clean up gambling and save sport, and Interpol would be wiser to encourage this than play with the minor leagues of illegal gambling.”
Source: The Guardian