The authorities said those arrested include the leaders of an Armenian gambling ring that was dismantled in October. Another 83 people were involved with the match fixing, Spanish officials said, including 28 professional players. One of those played in last year’s U.S. Open.
Tennis may not be the first sport that comes to mind for sports fixing. But the European Sports Security Association, which tracks betting for bookmakers, has said tennis tops the list of sports linked to suspicious gambling, according to the BBC.
Authorities said on Thursday the players fixed results after taking bribes from the Armenian ring. “Our officers have proved the group had been operating since February 2017 and estimate that they had earned millions of euros through the operation,” said the Civil Guard in a statement, according to The Independent.
Eleven houses were raided and police seized luxury vehicles, a shotgun, credit cards, and 167,000 Euros ($191,000) in cash. It wasn’t clear if the player who took part in the U.S. Open was among those detained.
Police accused Spaniard player Marc Fornell-Mestres, whose highest career singles ranking was 236th in 2007, of acting as the link between players and the Armenian ring that bribed them. No other names had been immediately disclosed by authorities.
The 36-year-old Fornell-Mestres was provisionally suspended from professional tennis at the end of last year, according to the Tennis Integrity Unit, which said the suspension related to an investigation into “alleged breaches of the Tennis Anti-Corruption Program.”
Fornell-Mestres was ranked 1007th in singles and 772th in doubles at the end of 2018. It was a warning by the Tennis Integrity Unit in 2017 that prompted Spanish authorities to begin their investigation.
Police said the organized group bribed the players to guarantee predetermined results, and used the identities of thousands of citizens to place international bets on the matches. Authorities said members of the Armenian ring attended the matches to ensure the players complied with the fixes.
European Union law enforcement agency Europol, which supported the operation led by Spanish authorities, said at least 97 matches from lower-tier Futures and Challenger tournaments were fixed. More than 40 bank accounts used by those allegedly involved with the ring were blocked by authorities.
They “attended the matches to ensure that the tennis players complied with what was previously agreed, and gave orders to other members of the group to go ahead with the bets placed at national and international level,” Europol said in a statement, according to Sport24.co.za
Police are also investigating what they suspect are strong links between some of the suspects arrested in Spain and an Armenian-Belgian crime gang broken up by Belgium police last year, also suspected of fixing tennis matches. In the Belgium case, police announced in June the arrest of 13 people in Belgium and said the gang also targeted lower-level tennis matches.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.