By Nick Harris
SJA Internet Sports Writer of the Year
7 February 2013
The leading investigator into the global match-fixing crisis in football has confirmed that a press conference on Monday hosted by Europol “was misleading” and “it is a concern that the message was not clear.”
Friedhelm Althans is the chief match-fix investigator with Bochum police in Germany and also the most senior police official and spokesman for the multi-national Joint Investigation Team (JIT) – codenamed Operation VETO – which between July 2011 and January 2013 conducted a review of match-fixing cases around the world.
Monday’s press conference led to global headlines saying that a Europol investigation had found almost 700 football matches had been fixed. (The official Europol release is here and video at the foot of this article).
But Althans has clarified in an exclusive interview with Sportingintelligence today that there should have been a clear separation in the press conference between ‘old’ cases in Europe – 380 of them, which have long been known about and prosecuted – and 300 “new” cases, in Africa, Asia and Latin America, which Operation Veto has uncovered as a by-product of looking at the “old” cases.
“On Monday the message was not clear,” Althans said. “The 380 cases referred to in Europe are old cases that everyone has known about, cases already dealt with by authorities in Germany, Hungary, Finland, Slovenia and Austria.”
The 380 cases, he said, included matches outside those five countries, notably 79 fixed games in Turkey and others elsewhere where the prosecutions happened in Germany or one of the other five nations.
For clarification, Althans said that when money was mentioned in the press conference, it should have been made clearer that crooked bets of €16m, crooked profits of €8m and bribes to those involved of €2m related only to German cases.
One of the most headline-grabbing single facts of Monday’s conference was the revelation that an English club had been involved in a “suspicious” Champions League match in England. It is known now this was Liverpool’s game with Debrecen in 2009.
This too is an “old” case that wasn’t just known about but had already been prosecuted via Uefa and upheld by CAS. The goalkeeper involved, Vukasin Poleksic, was banned for not reporting approaches from fixers. He was not banned for fixing and maintains his innocence.
The “new” information that should have been more clearly stated in the press conference, Althans says, is that 300 “new” cases have been looked at in Africa, Asia and Latin America, as “spin-offs” from the investigations into the fixes in Europe.
“We have what we call ‘first evidence’ in about 150 of these 300 cases,” Althans says. “That means we have some results of investigations that show more than suspicion. How many in total are more than suspicious we might know in about six months.”
A blog yesterday by match-fixing author Declan Hill stressed the newness of some of VETO’s revelations. (Link to the blog here). That blog claimed an investigator said up to 150 international matches had been fixed in the last two years.
In fact, Althans has clarified to Sportingintelligence that of the 300 “new” cases in Africa, Asia and Latin America, “around 90 per cent of those involve international matches”. Or in other words, around 270 international games are among the 300 “new cases”.
However, these are not from the past two years. They relate to games played “mostly in 2009, 2010 and 2011″, according to Althans.
Althans estimates that “around 50″ different international teams were involved in these “suspicious” internationals, which is a truly alarming number should further investigation prove it to be correct.
“It’s about 50, but the international teams themselves were not necessarily involved in the fixing, these games could have been fixed by the referees and officials,” Althans says.
He added that all the 300 “new” games under suspicion are linked to the same Singapore cartel.
The next step for Althans and his team is to hand over their findings to local police forces and law enforcement agencies to try to take then forward and prosecute. He envisages this will happen through Interpol. “We [in Europe] don’t have jurisdiction to do this,” he said.
When Sportingintelligence asked Europol if their role in these matters was now finished as an organisation, a spokesman said: “No comment.”
Europol routinely co-ordinates continent-wide police operations around drug crime, people trafficking and other serious issues; but this is the first time that information about match-fixing has been shared on such a basis between national forces. It is partly through this sharing that the net has widened.