PARIS (Reuters) - More than 5,000 people have been arrested in a swoop on illegal gambling on World Cup soccer across Asia and police have seized nearly $10 million, Interpol said on Friday.
The global police cooperation agency said raids on nearly 800 illegal gambling dens between June 11 and July 11 targeted illicit betting linked to organized crime in Malaysia, Singapore, Thailand and China.
“As well as having clear connections to organized crime gangs, illegal soccer gambling is also linked with corruption, money laundering and prostitution,” said Jean-Michel Louboutin, executive director of police services.
The coordinated police operation, codenamed SOGA III, was not about match-fixing, a spokeswoman for Interpol said.
Illegal gambling dens, including some in Hong Kong and casino haven Macau — both former colonial enclaves which are now parts of China — had taken more than $155 million in bets.
Police also seized cars, bank cards, computers and mobile phones during the raids, which were coordinated by Interpol’s headquarters in Lyon and its Bangkok liaison office.
“The results we have seen are impressive, not only in the number of arrests and seizures made across the region in just one month, but in terms of the police cooperation which made this possible,” Louboutin said.
The three SOGA operations carried out so far have led to nearly 7,000 arrests, the seizure of over $26 million in cash and the closure of illegal gambling dens that handled more than $2 billion worth of bets.
In Hong Kong, police said they arrested 235 men and women aged between 16 and 79 after searching 139 locations in the latest operation. They seized betting slips valued at HK$361 million ($46.5 million) and 77 computers.
One swoop saw police smash a vast cross-border bookmaking syndicate that had taken in around $1 billion in illegal bets.
During that operation, mounted in cooperation with police in the southern Chinese province of Guangdong, 83 people were arrested in Hong Kong and 29 in China, police said.
Chinese state media said earlier this month police had smashed an online betting network, with the alleged ringleader accused of dealings worth 100 billion yuan ($14.76 billion).
It was not immediately clear if that operation was linked to the one announced by Interpol on Friday.
Gambling is highly restricted in most of China, ensuring brisk trade for Macau in the country’s south, which has overtaken Las Vegas as the world’s largest gambling market.
Malaysia has backtracked on the approval of a sports betting license following public anger in the mostly Muslim nation.
In Britain’s liberalized market, punters can bet on sports matches as well as play casino games such as roulette and blackjack online.
France legalized certain kinds of online gambling in June, not including casino games however, just in time for wagers on the World Cup.
Websites in the country took 80 million euros ($104 million) in bets in the first month they were open.
Companies such as Britain’s PartyGaming and Austria’s bwin are awaiting the result of attempts by congressmen in the United States to overturn the ban on online gaming there. (Reporting by Victoria Bryan; editing by Philippa Fletcher)