LONDON (Reuters) - Singapore, which European investigators say is the source for hundreds of soccer matches being fixed in a global betting scam, promised on Tuesday to aid the probe but some in the game said many of the revelations were nothing new.
About 680 suspicious matches including qualifying games for the World Cup and European Championships, and the Champions League for top European club sides, have been identified in an inquiry by European police forces, the European anti-crime agency Europol and national prosecutors.
“The authorities in Singapore are assisting the European authorities in their investigations into an international match-fixing syndicate that purportedly involves Singaporeans,” the Southeast Asian city-state’s police said in a statement.
“Singapore takes a strong stance against match-fixing and is committed to working with international enforcement agencies to bring down transnational criminal syndicates, including those that involve the acts of Singaporeans overseas, and protect the integrity of the sport.”
Investigators said about 380 of the suspicious matches were played in Europe, and a further 300 were identified in Africa, Asia and Latin America.
The fixing could also include top-flight national league matches in several European countries, as well as two Champions League matches, including one played in Britain.
Danish newspaper Ekstra Bladet said that match was Hungarian side Debrecen’s 2009 Champions League group match against Liverpool.
The report caused barely a ripple at Debrecen who said on Tuesday that it was merely raking over old ground.
Ekstra Bladet said match fixers intended to rig the betting market for total goals in the European club clash, which Liverpool won 1-0, and targeted Debrecen’s Montenegrin goalkeeper Vukasin Poleksic.
Debrecen, however, said these allegations have already been dealt with by European soccer’s governing body UEFA and Poleksic was given a two-year ban in 2010 for failing to report approaches from alleged fixers ahead of matches against Liverpool and Serie A side Fiorentina in Hungary.
The scourge of match fixing, according to one coach who was banned for helping to throw matches, will not go away quickly.
Burkina Faso coach Paul Put, whose own career was blighted by his involvement in a match-fixing scandal in Belgium in 2005, held out little hope that the problem could be easily solved.
“Match-fixing has always existed in football. If you look in cycling, at Lance Armstrong, it’s always him who is pointed at but everybody was taking drugs,” the Belgian said.
“When I played football I saw a lot of things. I don’t think you can change it. It’s unfortunate but I think in every sport you have to face those things,” he told reporters on Tuesday ahead of Burkina Faso’s African Nations Cup semi-final meeting with Ghana in Nelspruit, South Africa.
Put was banned from football for three years for fixing two matches while in charge at Lierse in 2005. He said his family had been threatened and feels he was a scapegoat.
“You have to see what’s going on in football. There are a lot of big international players who are involved in match-fixing,” he said.
“I think it was worse in the past.”
Bolivian soccer authorities said a match which media reports say is included in the Europol probe was already being dealt with.
“We all know that this federation asked international authorities to clear up this issue,” federation president Carlos Chavez told local media in reference to the controversial decisions made by a Hungarian referee during a 2010 Under-20 friendly.
Argentina won 1-0 after the referee extended playing time by 13 minutes and awarded them a penalty.
German soccer has been tarnished by match-fixing scandals in the past decade, one involving a corrupt referee who was caught, but German Football League (DFL) president Reinhard Rauball said the top two Bundesliga divisions were not caught up in this investigation.
“According to our knowledge the Bundesliga and the second Bundeslia are not affected,” Rauball said.
A different picture emerged from Spain where, according to the vice president of the country’s professional league (LFP), match-fixing and illegal betting exist in Spanish soccer.
“Here the illness is not admitted to so you cannot cure the patient,” the LFP’s Javier Tebas was quoted as saying in Marca sports daily.
“There are institutions which are not aware of what goes on,” he said.
“There is matchfixing and illegal betting. In a small percentage but there is also corruption in Spain.”
Additional reporting by John O'Callaghan, Kevin Lim and Paul Carsten in Singapore,; Carlos Alberto Quiroga in La Paz, Zoltan Fazekas in Budapest, Mark Gleeson in Nelspruit, Karolos Grohmann in Berlin Toby Davis in London and Iain Rogers in Madrid, editing by Mark Meadows