League of Ireland match-fixing probe 'close to the end game'

League of Ireland match-fixing probe 'close to the end game'

The statements made by the 10 men will be examined, cross-checked and analysed against evidence already gathered, including phone and financial records. File photo: Piaras Ó Mídheach/Sportsfile

Detectives will today begin examining statements made by 10 men who were questioned for allegedly conspiring to fix football matches in the League of Ireland.

The 10 men were taken into custody — eight in Limerick, one in Cork and one in Dublin, aged from their 20s to their 60s — on suspicion of conspiracy to defraud.

All ten men have since been released without charge.

The suspects are current and former players as well as individuals not involved in the game who allegedly operated together to manipulate games and place corresponding bets.

The arrests marked the culmination of a three-year investigation by specialist officers attached to the Anti-Bribery and Corruption Unit in the Garda National Economic Crime Bureau.

The investigation was launched in 2019 after both the FAI and UEFA, the European governing league, submitted reports to gardaí regarding possible match-fixing. The men were expected to be released overnight or early this morning, pending a file being sent to the Director of Public Prosecutions.

Last night gardaí released five of those arrested without charge and said a file will now be prepared for the Director of Public Prosecutions.

The five others last night remained in custody with "investigations ongoing".

Gardaí released a further four men today without charge, and a file will now be prepared for the Director of Public Prosecutions.

One man remains in Garda custody this Thursday morning.

Sources did not expect any charges to be brought immediately and said the results of the statements made by the ten men would be examined and cross-checked.

Sources did not expect any charges to be brought immediately and said the results of the statements made by the 10 men would be examined and cross-checked. They will also be analysed against evidence already gathered, including phone and financial records.

“This is close to the end game,” said one source. “I would not anticipate charges now, but we will check what people say and it will all feed back into the file to the DPP.” 

Another well-placed source said the ongoing investigation focuses on "the whole integrity of the sport".

“Results of games affect placings in the League of Ireland table and it affects what clubs qualify for European competitions. 

So the ramifications are much bigger than a small group of people and what they are trying to do themselves - there is a much wider impact.

Detective Superintendent Catharina Gunne, of the Garda National Economic Crime Bureau, said: "Match-fixing and corruption is a threat to all sports, at all levels, and undermines public confidence in the fairness of sport. It can allow organised crime to infiltrate sport in order to use it to make illicit gains or launder proceeds of crime.”

Limerick FC

It is understood the allegations relate to unusual betting patterns on matches played by Limerick FC, which is no longer a League of Ireland club, during the 2019 season. The investigation includes suspicions of fouls being deliberately committed, leading to red cards or teams losing.

Wagers placed and won on teams being defeated by a precise number of goals, typically more than one, also form part of the case. A trend of bets being laid by large numbers of home fans in a certain part of the country, seeking a negative outcome for their team, also aroused attention.

The FAI at the time confirmed they had launched investigations into two of Limerick’s games, the First Division match at Shelbourne in April of that year, followed by the FAI Cup tie away to Sligo Rovers in August, which Limerick lost 6-2 after being in a two-goal lead.

In June 2019, players from the club were interviewed about a specific game by FAI officials, assisted by a former Interpol official, without any allegations being made.

A Limerick sports ground, then used for training by Limerick FC, was searched on September 3, 2019, and documentation and electronic devices, including the phones of some Limerick FC players, were recovered by gardaí. 

Months later, in January 2020, gardaí discovered evidence of betting, cash, and a stun gun as part of the same match-fixing probe. The items were discovered during searches at properties in Limerick City and included mobile phones, and computers, as well as €20,000 in cash. However, no arrests were made at that time.

Gardaí appealed to anyone with information in relation to match-fixing or sports corruption to make a report in confidence to the Anti-Bribery and Corruption Confidential Reporting line – 1800 40 60 80 — or to their local Garda station.

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