Wed, Jun 06, 2018 - Page 16 News List

Belgian police detain 13 in tennis match-fixing probe

AFP, BRUSSELS

Belgian police yesterday held 13 people in an investigation into match fixing in tennis, prosecutors said, barely a month after a major report warned of a “tsunami” of corruption in the lower levels of the sport.

Officers swooped on 21 addresses in Belgium, while simultaneous raids were launched on properties in the US, Germany, France, Bulgaria, Slovakia and the Netherlands as part of an international probe into an Armenian-Belgian criminal network suspected of bribing players to throw games.

The matches involved were on the low-level Futures and Challenger circuits, away from the gaze of television coverage and where prize money is low enough that players are susceptible to backhanders, Belgian prosecutors said.

“This judicial investigation showed that an Armenian-Belgian criminal organization actively would have bribed professional tennis players from 2014 to the present day in order to obtain a pre-arranged match result with the aim of betting on these fixed matches based on insider information, thereby fraudulently boosting winnings,” prosecutors said in a statement.

The suspects mostly fit the same profile: no income, no job and facing financial problems, prosecutors said, adding that they would be given money to bet on lower-division matches where prize money was about US$5,000 to US$15,000.

“These tournaments are usually not filmed, which would make the players easier to corrupt and the organizers of fixed matches generate a lot of cash, making themselves guilty of match fixing, corruption, money laundering, participation in the activities of a criminal organization,” prosecutors said.

An Independent Review of Integrity in Tennis report in April said that the lower levels of the sport were engulfed in corruption.

The problems stemmed from too many players in the likes of the Futures and Challenger circuits not earning enough to make a living, coupled with the rise of online betting, it said.

There are about 15,000 professional tennis players, but only the top 250 women and the top 350 men manage to break even before coaching costs, said lawyer Adam Lewis, who chaired the review panel.

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