LYON, France – While most of us were watching the UEFA European Football Championship as simple fans, hundreds of specialized officers across 28 countries were targeting organized crime groups looking to earn millions from illegal gambling and related money laundering activities.
INTERPOL’s Operation SOGA VIII (short for soccer gambling) led to thousands of raids and the arrest of some 1,400 suspects across Asia and Europe. Authorities seized USD 7.9 million in cash, as well as computers and mobile phones connected to nearly USD 465 million in bets.
Illegal gambling generates significant profits for organized crime networks and is often closely associated with other crimes such as money laundering and corruption. The operation was coordinated by INTERPOL’s Financial Crimes and Anti-Corruption units, with support from the Asia-Pacific Expert Group on Organized Crime (APEG) and the INTERPOL Match Fixing Task Force (IMFTF).
Hong Kong Police detained more than 800 suspects, including the alleged kingpin of a triad-controlled bookmaking syndicate, seizing nearly USD 2.7 million in cash and records detailing hundreds of millions in bets, making it one of their most successful operations against illegal gambling ever.
“Our collective experience helped us anticipate links between betting syndicates and their illegal counterparts during Euro 2020. This, ultimately, led us to organized crime groups acting on a global scale and generating huge profits,” said Wong Wai, Head of Hong Kong Police’s Organized Crime and Triad Bureau and Chairman of INTERPOL’s Asia-Pacific Expert Group on Organized Crime.
SOGA VIII saw its strongest participation by European countries, as well as a range of law enforcement agencies, in order to target illegal gambling from various angles.
“Italian authorities carried out a nationwide operation during Euro 2020, resulting in the inspection of 280 betting shops and EUR 1.3 million in sanctions for illegal betting operations. Such international operations are key to the collective fight against illegal betting, but also in developing national and international cooperation frameworks,” said Roberto Ribaudo, Director of Economic and Financial Crime Division at INTERPOL’s National Central Bureau in Rome.
Additionally, officers saw increased activity in online gaming platforms, forums and social media, where individuals would offer gambling tips or even payment to those willing to open online bank accounts for money transfers.
The operation was conducted under the aegis of Project Anti Cyber-Enabled Financial Crimes (CEFIN) funded by the Republic of Korea.
To date, INTERPOL’s eight SOGA operations have resulted in more than 19,100 arrests, seizures of more than USD 63 million in cash and the closure of more than 4,000 illegal gambling dens which handled more than USD 7.3 billion worth of bets.
Participating countries: Austria, Azerbaijan, Bahrain, Belgium, Brunei, Cambodia, China, Croatia, Czech Republic, Finland, France, Germany, Hungary, India, Ireland, Italy, Malaysia, Maldives, Philippines, Poland, Portugal, Romania, Russia, Singapore, Spain, Switzerland, United Kingdom, Vietnam.