MADRID (Reuters) - The Spanish Civil Guard has made widespread arrests following an investigation into tennis match-fixing by an organized Armenian criminal gang, the European Union’s Europol agency said on Thursday.
Eleven house searches were carried out in Spain and 167,000 euros in cash were seized, along with a shotgun, more than 50 electronic devices, credit cards, five luxury vehicles and documentation related to the case. Forty-two bank accounts have been frozen.
The Civil Guard said in a statement 15 people had been arrested, including the leaders of the criminal organization, while a further 68 people have been investigated.
Of the 83 people implicated in the case, 28 were professional tennis players, playing in the ITF Futures and Challenger categories, and one whose identity was not revealed competed in the 2018 U.S. Open.
“Our officers have proved the group had been operating since February 2017 and estimate that they had earned millions of euros through the operation,” added the Civil Guard’s statement.
News of the arrests came a day after the Tennis Integrity Unit (TIU) revealed that in 2018 more tennis players were disciplined for violations of anti-corruption rules than in any other year since the body’s creation.
Twenty-one individuals broke anti-corruption rules with the majority sanctioned for match-fixing or betting offences, while eight lifetime bans were imposed, most notably to Italian former world number 49 Daniele Bracciali for match-fixing and facilitating betting.
An independent review panel, set up by the sport’s four governing organizations, the ATP, WTA, ITF and Grand Slam Board, last month published a report into the threat of match-fixing in the sport.
It described the current tennis environment as “a lamentably fertile breeding ground for breaches of integrity”, in particular the lowest rungs of the professional game.
The report said there were around 14,000 notional professional players in 2018 but that only about 600 earned enough money to cover the annual cost of competing.
Of the 400 match specific alerts flagged up by betting organizations to the TIU in 2018, 91 percent were generated at the lowest and mid-levels of the sport where prize money is minimal compared to what is on offer on the main Tours.
“The imbalance between prize money and the cost of competing places players in an invidious position by tempting them to contrive matches for financial reward,” the report said.
Reporting by Mitch Phillips and Richard Martin, additional reporting by Martyn Herman; editing by Gareth Jones and Ed Osmond