Over two dozen people are standing trial in Spain over accusations they colluded to rig the outcome of tennis matches. The trial begins today and the accused face lengthy sentences if found guilty.
Match-fixing in sports is a problem that plagues the entire industry. Although there are indications that the number of possible attempts at rigging games is declining, complete elimination is a virtual impossibility.
Tennis has dealt with allegations of match-fixing for decades, typically among the lower-level games. Routinely, accusations surface that lead to players and other insiders receiving fines, suspensions, or lifetime bans.
A trial is now underway in Spain that hopes to send a message, with 14 individuals facing allegations of rigging matches. All of those on trial are allegedly part of a single criminal group and face charges of corruption in sports, as well as fraud. The scandal is part of the reason Spain increased its focus on match-fixing.
Serving Up Prison Sentences
The trial began today in Spain’s National Court. Prosecutors have laid out their list of complaints and punishments, including desired sentences of between two and six years for the 14 defendants.
Spain’s Civil Guard uncovered the plot at the end of October 2018. It worked in collaboration with EUROPOL and the General Directorate of Gambling Regulation of the Ministry of Finance. At the time, police accused Spanish tennis player Marc Fornell of being part of the gang.
The investigation began through a complaint from the head of the Tennis Integrity Unit (TIU), an international anti-corruption body responsible for ensuring integrity in the world of tennis. It ended a year later when Judge José de la Mata agreed that there was sufficient evidence of organized crime, corruption between individuals, fraud, usurpation of civil status and money laundering.
The defendants are allegedly members of a criminal organization that altered the outcome of tennis matches. Judge de la Mata estimated that, through their activity, they were able to generate revenue of well over €3.6 million (US$3.8 million).
Uncovering the Modus Operandi
The criminal organization usurped thousands of identities of citizens, according to prosecutors. They then used those identities to make the bets in an attempt to hide their illicit activity. The gang linked the identities to bettors’ accounts and electronic wallets, then diverted the profits. This allowed them to mask their true identities. This also provided a way to avoid paying taxes on the illegal profits.
In addition to tennis players, the organization involved people of Armenian nationality. These, according to the investigators, also attended the games. They were there to verify that the matches achieved the desired outcome and to place their own wagers.
The Prosecutor’s Office wants sentences of two years for the crime of belonging to a criminal group for fourteen defendants. It also wants six years for the crime of corruption in sport and continued fraud. In addition, the judge could issue fines and ban any players from participating in official tennis competitions for up to two years.
Palinka Out of Tennis
Highlighting the severity of the issue, tennis player Ksenia Palkina recently received what amounts to a lifetime ban. The 32-year-old Russian player was formerly ranked 163rd, but lost all her awards and accolades for rigging matches.
Palkina admitted that she fixed matches in 2018 and 2019. As a result, the International Tennis Integrity Agency announced at the end of April that it hit her with a $93,742 fine (of which it suspended $87,000) and a 16-year ban.
The ban took effect when she received a preliminary suspension in 2019. With six years of it suspended, she could return to tennis when she is 39 years old. Martina Navratilova retired when she was 49, and Palkina would have a difficult time making up for lost time if she returns at 39.
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