Date: August 1, 2023, 08:15h.
Last updated: August 1, 2023, 08:15h.
The use of technology to detect potential match-fixing in sports has led to the uncovering of significant issues with game manipulation worldwide. Spain is the latest country to face revelations, as authorities have dismantled a major match-fixing ring involving players and even a team president.
The Spanish National Police have made arrests in Melilla and Granada, targeting individuals suspected of being part of a criminal organization involved in fixing soccer matches. Europol, the Royal Spanish Football Federation (RFEF), and LaLiga have collaborated on this operation.
The focus of the investigation has been on Huracán de Melilla, a team competing in the RFEF’s Third Division. Numerous individuals associated with the team are accused of corruption, fraud, money laundering, and document falsification. Due to their collaboration and involvement with criminals, they may also face charges related to participating in a criminal organization.
Uncovering the Investigation
The investigation was initiated in February after Spain’s gaming regulator, the General Directorate for the Regulation of Gambling, received alerts from online sportsbooks regarding suspicious bets on specific results of matches involving Huracán de Melilla.
The Global Betting Market Research Service (SIGMA) played a significant role in the investigation, according to the National Police. SIGMA was specifically created to aid in the identification of potential match-fixing, providing access to industry data for various sports entities, law enforcement agencies, and gaming operators.
Simultaneously, LaLiga received an anonymous tip through its whistleblower channel, providing information on suspicious practices by Huracán de Melilla. In addition to match-fixing, the tipster hinted at potential irregularities in the team’s collection of aid and subsidies, which were allegedly used for sports betting.
Europol actively supported the operation with a mobile office in Melilla, extracting information from electronic devices and phones. This data will contribute to a larger anti-corruption database.
Once the information was analyzed, the police were able to uncover a complex criminal network. The investigation revealed that the team president, Felipe Heredia, managed the match-fixing ring with the cooperation of trusted players.
Nowhere to Hide
The players utilized third parties close to them to place bets, attempting to avoid direct links to the bets and the matches in which they participated. However, advancements in technology have made it increasingly difficult to hide such activities.
The police’s actions have also exposed fraudulent activities related to subsidies received by the club. Allegedly, the club manipulated declarations submitted to the RFEF to inflate its figures and receive more funding.
Authorities are still uncertain about the total amount of money the criminal organization may have profited from their activities. The investigation is ongoing, focusing on seven soccer matches, with further arrests anticipated.
This is not the first time Huracán de Melilla has faced accusations of match-fixing. In 2021, a complaint was filed after the team suffered an 8-0 loss in a Copa del Rey tournament. At the time, Heredia stated that any club member involved would be immediately dismissed, emphasizing a zero-tolerance policy towards corruption within the team.