Published on: 05 Jun 2018
In an international investigation led by the Belgian Police and the Federal Public Prosecutor’s Office, supported by Europol, an organised crime group actively involved in manipulating professional tennis competitions has been disrupted and 13 suspects have been arrested in 21 house searches across 12 different locations in Belgium. Material of evidentiary value, including many mobile phones, computers and cash, was seized.
Several other house searches and interviews were also simultaneously coordinated in other countries targeting additional suspects of the criminal network. As part of the investigation, Belgium cooperated with investigators from Bulgaria, France, Germany, the Netherlands, Slovakia and the United States of America (with support from the FBI).
Europol provided continued analytical support throughout the investigation. On the action day Europol staff were deployed on the spot and provided real time cross-checks and analysis of the information gathered. International police cooperation across the European Union and beyond is a crucial factor in the fight against sports corruption.
The investigation revealed that an Armenian-Belgian criminal organisation operating across different countries, both in and outside Europe, actively bribed professional players on lower-tier tennis circuits. The bribed players mostly participated in the Challenger and Futures tournaments, the second and third-highest levels of professional tennis competitions respectively. The players had been bribed to obtain pre-arranged match results with the aim of betting on these fixed matches, thereby fraudulently boosting winnings. The Armenian-Belgian criminal organisation consisted of several individuals, each of whom had a specific task, including anonymously moving large sums of money abroad.
The investigation was triggered in 2015 when reports were provided by several gaming institutions indicating that many people of Armenian origin residing in Belgium may be part of this tennis match-fixing scheme.
The suspects mostly fit the same profile – no income, no job, etc. Following clear instructions, they would use cash from the criminal group to bet on lower-division foreign sports matches with modest prize money (USD 5 000–USD 15 000). These tournaments are usually not filmed, which would make the players easier to corrupt and allow the organisers of fixed matches to generate large amount of cash.
Members of the disrupted criminal network have been charged with offences of match-fixing, corruption, money laundering and participation in the activities of a criminal organisation.