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Spanish police bust tennis match fixing racket

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Madrid, Dec 2 (IANS) Spanish authorities have arrested 34 people, including seven tennis players, for allegedly fixing tennis matches to obtain favorable gambling outcomes, the local police have said.

Maria Jimenez, a spokeswoman for the Civil Guard -- Spain's national, militarised police force -- said in a press conference on Thursday that the detained players were all male and occupied spots between 30-360 in Spain's national tennis ranking and 800-1,400 in the ATP World Tour ranking, reports Efe.

"The betting house that was affected the most by this ring was BET365," Jimenez added.

She explained that the players may have committed a felony of sporting fraud -- punishable with between six months and four years imprisonment -- and could face long-term disqualification and tennis federation-imposed bans from participating in tournaments.

All those arrested also stand accused of fraud and belonging to a criminal organization.

According to Jimenez, the Civil Guard sting -- codenamed "Operation Futures" -- has effectively dismantled a criminal ring that allegedly fixed tennis matches in order to reap lucrative earnings from online gambling.

The Civil Guard's Anti-Fraud and Money Laundering task force in Madrid launched the investigation in February last year after receiving a tip-off from the Tennis Integrity Unit (TIU), an international watchdog group dedicated to monitoring the sport's integrity.

The TIU alerted about a match-fixing attempt after a tennis player in Madrid reported having received an offer that required him to purposefully alter his performance in an upcoming tournament.

One of the arrested players allegedly played the role of intermediary, acting as a go-between for the ring and other players and receiving generous sums -- obtained from gambling profits -- for his efforts.

This person had access to several other professional players and established relationships of trust with them after sharing training sessions or competing against them.

Days before the tournaments were due to start, he would allegedly meet with the targeted player and offer specific amounts of money in exchange for the latter deliberately throwing certain games while serving.

In the event the intermediary was unable to corrupt the players in the first attempt, the group would offer to double or triple the original sum.

Some players, according to Jimenez, accepted out of fear of reprisal.

Once the players agreed to cooperate, the ring used instant messaging apps and group chats to communicate with accomplices and relatives and thus increase the betting profits.

--IANS

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