Interpol calls for ‘coordinated’ response

Special World Cup operation featured nearly 15,000 raids on illegal sports betting dens


Interpol has called for a “coordinated international response” after detailing the results of a huge clampdown on illegal gambling throughout Asia during the 2018 Fifa World Cup, with the operation having illustrated a “clear shift” from physical to online betting services.

Operation SOGA VII saw more than 14,900 raids at illegal gambling dens across China, Hong Kong and Macau, as well as Malaysia, Thailand and Singapore. The dens were estimated to have handled some $1.6bn (£1.25bn/€1.39bn) worth of bets.

Coordinated by Interpol’s Organized and Emerging Crime Directorate, the operation targeted the organised crime networks behind illegal gambling in the region. With 242 arrests in Hong Kong alone, Interpol said additional information relating to arrests and prosecutions will be available to global police authorities as ongoing investigations unfold.

The operation ran from June 22 to July 16, the day after the national team football tournament concluded in Russia, during which time police seized more than $1.7m in cash, as well as 1,000 computers and mobile phones which are being analysed to support ongoing investigations.

In Macau, police received intelligence that a criminal network had set up an illegal gambling ring targeting betters in mainland China. A total of 16 individuals – including the suspected ringleader – were arrested in both jurisdictions following raids at residential buildings and casinos, and police seized vehicles, cash, computers, mobile phones and accounting books.

“With the Hong Kong Police Force alone seizing betting slips worth $16.8m, Operation SOGA VII owes its success largely to the power of global and regional police cooperation through Interpol,” said Chief Superintendent Tat-Shing Man of Hong Kong’s Organized Crime and Triad Bureau.

Man, who also serves as chairman of Interpol’s Asia-Pacific Expert Group on Organized Crime, added: “Participating jurisdictions made the most of our solid collective experience of six previous SOGA operations which enabled us to clearly anticipate links between Asian betting syndicates and their illegal counterparts operating beyond Asia’s borders during the World Cup.”

With Interpol stating Operation SOGA VII highlighted a move from physical betting operations to online betting services, the agency’s director of organised and emerging crime, Paul Stanfield, reinforced how illegal gambling generates huge profits for organised criminal networks that are often linked to other serious crimes.

Stanfield said: “Such online platforms have brought an international dimension to the phenomenon and are often located in jurisdictions with few regulations on sports betting, presenting additional challenges for police. A coordinated international response is necessary to tackle this type of crime, especially as it moves from gambling dens to internet-based illegal betting operations.”

Earlier this month, Fifa claimed it was able to avoid manipulation and betting fraud in relation to the 2018 World Cup, with €136bn wagered on the tournament through verifiable platforms.

Football’s global governing body works with Sportradar to identify and analyse betting behaviour and patterns at various major national team and domestic club competitions around the world.

Sportradar deployed its Fraud Detection System to monitor over 550 betting operators across the globe during the World Cup.

After the tournament, Fifa and Sportradar carried out in-depth analysis of betting activities during matches, but could not find anything suspicious. The average match at the tournament had an estimated global betting turnover of €2.1bn, while the final between France and Croatia generated a worldwide estimated turnover of €7.2bn.

To date, the combined seven SOGA operations have resulted in more than 30,000 arrests, the seizure of some $57m in cash and the closure of more than 3,700 illegal gambling dens, which handled almost $8bn worth of bets.

In other news, police in China’s Jiangsu province have broken up an online gambling operation worth a reported CNY7.8bn (£889m/€990m/$1.14bn) and arrested 56 suspects connected to the Philippines-based platform.

State news agency Xinhua said the service had more than 114,000 users with the suspects accused of making illegal profits of CNY650m from the operation. Fifty suspects were arrested in Shanghai, Fujian, Zhejiang and Guangdong, while another six handed themselves in after returning to China from the Philippines. They are now being transferred for prosecution.

Xinhua said the investigation was first launched in January 2016, Casino gambling remains illegal in mainland China.

At the weekend, tech giant Apple withdrew thousands of gambling apps from its Chinese store amid criticism that it was failing to meet regulations concerning banned content.

State broadcaster CCTV yesterday (Sunday) reported that Apple cut at least 4,000 apps tagged with the keyword “gambling” on August 9 alone. Apple is also said to have removed 500 apps which included the keyword “lottery” in their names between July 31 and August 13.