Thousands in Asia held over World Cup bets

A man walks past giant footballs in Beijing, China (23/06/2010) Football and gambling are highly popular across Asia

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More than 5,000 people have been arrested across Asia as part of a World Cup operation against illegal gambling.

Almost $10m was seized during the crackdown in China, Malaysia, Singapore and Thailand, the international police force Interpol said.

Police in those countries "identified and raided nearly 800 illegal gambling dens", Interpol announced.

It is not clear whether results on the pitch were influenced - Interpol said that would form part of a wider probe.

Start Quote

The results we have seen are impressive”

End Quote Jean-Michel Louboutin Interpol

In the past, so-called spot bets have been placed on things like the first corner or the first booking, much easier to fix than a match involving 22 players, says the BBC's Christian Fraser in Paris.

During Operation Soga III, which ran from 11 June to 11 July, police seized assets including cars, bank cards, computers and mobile phones.

The dens handled more than $155m (£100m) in bets, Interpol said.

Soga III operation details

  • 793 raids in China, Thailand, Malaysia, Singapore
  • 5,007 arrests
  • Amount of bets involved: $155,541,216
  • Amount of cash seized: $9,984,868

Source: Interpol

Interpol, which facilitates international police co-operation, is based in the French city of Lyon.

Police forces around the world now hope that the information gathered will lead them to more people involved in illegal football gambling.

Online network

The crackdown would also have a long-term impact on organised crime gangs, said Interpol's chief of police services, Jean-Michel Louboutin.

Analysis

Rachel Harvey

It is pretty unprecedented to see this level of co-operation and co-ordination across such a wide area. That kind of cross-border co-operation has often been talked about in regional forums like Asean, and Apec, but trying to make it happen is often very tricky.

Getting Interpol to look at something that affects all the countries provided the push.

Gambling is mostly illegal across Asia. Despite the strict controls, though, it is hugely popular, hugely prevalent - it's just ingrained in the culture.

There are calls for it to be legalised, and controlled. But that goes against some religious strictures, some social conservative strictures. They argue this is not the way they want society to go.

Gambling may be a taboo, but it is very, very prevalent.

"The results we have seen are impressive, not only in the number of arrests and seizures made across the region in just one month, but in terms of the police co-operation which made this possible."

He added that the operation had also been a blow to corruption, money laundering and prostitution, and said football gambling had clear connections to those offences.

Interpol co-ordinated similar crackdowns in 2007 and 2008, codenamed Soga I and Soga II.

In total all three Soga operations have led to nearly 7,000 arrests and the seizure of more than $26m (£17m), Mr Louboutin said.

Last week details emerged of a Chinese gang accused of running a sophisticated online betting network in the run-up to the World Cup.

The gang, which was broken up last month, was alleged to have accumulated more than 100bn yuan (£9.7bn; $14.8bn), Chinese state media reported.

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