ROME (Reuters) - Italian police on Tuesday detained some 50 people, including team managers, players and a suspected Calabrian mobster, accused of fixing dozens of soccer matches in the country’s third division and its top semi-pro league.
“The probe demonstrates there was a heinous pact of corruption in the world of soccer,” Andrea Grassi, investigator for Italy’s elite SCO, an Italian anti-mafia police unit, told Reuters.
“It shows the interest of criminal networks in the business generated by soccer and the legal betting industry.”
The investigation began when police tapped the telephone of a member of the Iannazzo mob family in Calabria, discovering that he was arranging matches in order to make money by betting on them, a police official told Reuters.
The charges included conspiracy to commit sporting fraud, which in some cases favored organized crime groups. The continuing investigation also includes second division, or Serie B, games, police said.
Investigators suspect 28 Lega Pro and Serie D matches from the 2014-15 season were rigged. Among those sought by police for bribing players and coaches were Serbs, Albanians and Maltese nationals.
Police across Italy rounded up suspects in the early hours -- including 27 team presidents and managers, 17 players, five coaches, and one police officer -- and raided club offices.
Italy has been rocked by other match-fixing scandals in recent years. Mafia groups have increasingly tapped into the country’s legal gambling industry, Europe’s largest, as a way to earn and launder money.
The previous scandal followed the 2010-11 season, when the results of Serie B and third division -- Lega Pro -- matches were discovered to have been set up.
In the latest scandal, investigators said there were two different criminal gangs, one to set up the games in Lega Pro and the other those in Serie D.
“In some cases they fixed the matches in a hotel room,” a police official said, saying that there was video surveillance of at least one meeting.
Some of the clubs targeted by the investigation are Pro Patria, Barletta, Brindisi, L‘Aquila, Neapolis, Mugnano, Torres, Vigor-Lametia, Santarcangelo, Sorrento, Montalto, Puteolana, Akragas and San Severo, police said.
Additional reporting by Brian Homewood in Berne; Editing by Ralph Boulton