Spanish police have arrested 15 people suspected of earning millions of euros by fixing professional tennis matches, according to the European police agency Europol.
“An organised crime group involved in the manipulation of professional tennis competitions was dismantled in an operation directed by the Spanish Civil Guard and coordinated by the National Court of Spain,” Europol said in a statement. The European Police Office added that 28 of those involved are professional players.
Spanish authorities raided 11 houses, seizing 167,000 euros in cash, a shotgun and five luxury vehicles. Forty-two bank accounts were also frozen, according to the statement.
The identities of the players have not been revealed, but Europol added that one of them had participated in the last US Open.
The operation began in 2017 after the Tennis Integrity Unit (TIU) responded to reports of irregular activities involving matches in the ITF Futures and Challenger tournaments, which are lower level competitions, but allow players to earn enough qualifying points to be eligible for the main draw on the top-level ATP World Tour.
It is believed that the suspects, who are part of “a criminal group of Armenians”, have bribed professional players to ensure predetermined results,” the Spanish Civil Guard said in a statement.
“A criminal group of Armenian individuals used a professional tennis player, who acted as the link between the gang and the rest of the criminal group.”
The Civil Guard added that “once they got the bribe, the Armenian members went to the places where the matches were being played to make sure the player went through with what they had agreed, making the most of their imposing size”.
During the raids, which took place the same day, the Spanish police also seized 50 electronic devices, credit cards and documents related to the case.
This latest case tennis related corruption comes a mid growing concerns about the sport’s infiltration by criminal gangs.
In 2018, 21 people were found to have broken anti-corruption rules in the sport, the highest number since the Tennis Integrity Unit (ITU), which polices ethics in tennis, began monitoring the situation a decade ago.
Most received penalties for match-fixing or crimes related to betting.
Among the sentences applied, eight life bans were imposed, the most high profile of which was handed out to the Italian Daniele Bracciali who was once ranked number 49 in the world. He was found guilty of match-fixing and facilitating betting.