Over the past several months, police in Spain have continued efforts to dismantle what has turned out to be a massive soccer match-fixing ring. Each time they uncover new links, they find more, and Interpol is helping them crack the case with new arrests.
Spanish National Police agents, alongside agents of Interpol and Europol, have been conducting Operation Conifer, a joint effort to weed out match-fixing in soccer. The investigation began well over a year ago, with police making their first arrests last June.
That allowed them to peel back the layers of the organized activity and find more cells, leading to new arrests last November. Now, the police have arrested 23 more people, and they’re not done yet.
Integrity Groups Have a Lot of Work to Do
The gang targets soccer matches in the Royal Spanish Football Federation (RFEF, for its Spanish acronym), the League National of Gibraltar, and the League of Andorra. The arrests have been carried out in several provinces, including Badajoz, Cádiz, Ciudad Real, Córdoba, and Tenerife. There was also a cell working in the autonomous city of Ceuta in Northern Africa.
The latest arrests follow the 21 that police made during the first phase of the operation. Included in that group are several people who sold their online gaming accounts to members of the organization.
The organization used those accounts to place their bets. In return, the account holder earns between €4,000 to €24,000 (US$4,349 to $26,097) per account.
A deeper investigation began after those arrests and it is still finding more evidence. Investigators are still identifying soccer players who rigged matches and those who run the organization. It’s a complicated process made more challenging by the illegal use of the third-party accounts.
The modus operandi of the group includes four stages of activity. In the first, the athlete provides information about the soccer teams in a particular match. This gives the members of the organization an advantage when betting, as they learn key game factors, such as last-minute player adjustments or exits, the game system, and more before it becomes public knowledge.
In the second stage, the organizers and involved players use encrypted communications to discuss how to rig the game. The third stage involves placing the bet, either online or in person.
If placing bets online, the organizers use the third-party identities to avoid leaving an evidence trail that could lead back to them. They wager small amounts when betting in person to avoid the required tax paperwork that comes with larger winnings.
Bringing Down the House
The last stage is money collection. After the criminals collect their winnings, they pay the athletes and figure out how to hide their winnings. In addition, they pay recruiters to find new targets willing to establish betting accounts, and “mules” to place the bets and collect the winnings.
As a result of the investigation, which began in 2021, police have arrested almost 50 people so far. Investigators believe that they may have earned over €500,000 (US$543,700) through their scams.
There could likely be more arrests. The police continue to work with Interpol and Europol to determine if there are more players. In addition, Spain’s gaming regulator, the General Directorate of Gambling Regulation, and its Global Betting Market Research Service (SIGMA, for its Spanish acronym) are assisting.
They’re getting help from sports organizations, as well. UEFA is providing resources, as are La Liga and the RFEF. More than 30 matches are under review, and the investigation is still open.
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