Terror networks target sports betting
Experts say terror groups exploit sports betting because of slim chance of getting caught and difficulty in tracking international movement of money
It appears that terror networks will exploit any way they can find to fund their activities, even in unexpected areas like sports and betting.
Last year, a man with possible terror links was detained after placing unusual bets at a betting shop in Belgium.
While the full facts have yet to be established, it got the attention of the Belgian authorities who are investigating the matter, a few experts told The New Paper recently.
Mr Christian Kalb, a speaker at the World Lottery Summit at the Marina Bay Sands yesterday, had told TNP earlier that the alarm was raised when a betting operator called other betting shops in Belgium to flag one of its customers.
Mr Kalb, a sports governance expert at The French Institute for International and Strategic Affairs, said: "The person, a Kurd, went to place bets in a shop owned by a Turk. The Belgian gaming regulator was contacted and the police interrogated the man, who confessed."
The nature of his confession is not known but the incident was confirmed by Mr Peter Naessens, adviser to the Belgian Gaming Commission.
He told TNP in July: "The Kurd connection is not related to match fixing but to illegal gambling machines. The investigation continues."
He said there were "indications that there might be a connection with terrorist activities".
Given the deadly March bombings at an airport and metro station in Brussels in which 32 people were killed, the Belgian authorities are exploring all leads, said Professor Laurent Vidal from University Paris 1.
In May, he told TNP: "I can confirm that the Belgian authorities have looked into the allegation of ties between match fixing and terrorism, but I cannot tell you if it does concern the Kurdish channel."
But Mr Eric Bisschop, vice-federal prosecutor at Belgium's head of organised crime unit, told TNP in May that initial investigations into the Kurd had not turned up any clear links to terrorism activities.
While terror groups have traditionally engaged in human and drug trafficking, counterfeiting operations, kidnapping and the sale of contraband cigarettes, it is nonetheless a concern that they could be involved in the betting and sporting industries.
Former Fifa security head Chris Eaton told TNP that he would not be surprised if terror groups are also tapping on the expertise of Singapore match-fixing syndicates.
Prof Vidal, who is also the chairman of the Sorbonne-ICSS Research Program on Ethics and Sports Integrity, said: "Terror cells are using sports like any other channels to collect money. Today, it's much easier to fix a match than to develop drug businesses. If it's not stopped, it's a big threat."
In the past, D Company, an organised-crime and terror network headed by Dawood Ibrahim, a fugitive of Indian origin, who remains on Interpol's Wanted List, had used sports to fund terror activities.
D Company has been linked to cricket match fixing.
In 2013, The Times of India reported that Dawood had personally set illegal betting rates for Indian Premier League cricket matches. He is accused of being involved in the 1993 Mumbai bombings and the 2008 Mumbai terror attacks by Pakistan-trained militants.
Dr Tom Heenan of Monash University in Australia said a percentage of D Company's revenues went to outfits like Lashkar e-Tayyiba, one of the largest and most active terrorist groups in South Asia.
Dr Heenan, who presented his research on Dawood at a symposium in Australia last year, told TNP: "I read a recent academic article in which the decline in the drug market internationally meant that terror groups had shifted their interests to the sports betting markets, particularly the illegal market which draws on hawala networks."
Hawala is a traditional system of transferring money used in Middle-East and South Asian countries - the money is paid to an agent who then instructs an associate in the relevant country or area to pay the final recipient.
Both Dr Heenan and Mr Kalb believe terror groups target match fixing and gambling because of the slim chance of getting caught and the difficulty in tracking the international movement of money.
Dr Heenan said: "It is inevitable that as with other black-market criminal activities with high returns, sports betting would be targeted by terror groups. For starters, it's the perfect means of 'washing' money."
Locally, Singapore Pools has a "multi-layered" monitoring system to spot unusual betting patterns that could suggest possible match fixing, money laundering or any other illegal activity.
It is part of a network called the Global Lottery Monitoring System, an initiative by 27 member operators in 25 countries.
A Singapore Pools spokesman told TNP: "Launched in June last year, the global surveillance system uses a fraud-detection system to monitor sports betting to detect any unusual or suspicious betting patterns, providing 24/7 coverage of the various betting markets worldwide."
The Ministry of Home Affairs said Singapore takes a very serious view of any support for terrorism-related activities including terrorism financing.
Its spokesman told TNP: "The authorities will take firm and decisive action against any person who provides, collects or possesses property for terrorist purposes."
LINKED: D Company, an organised-crime and terror network headed by Dawood Ibrahim, has been linked to cricket match fixing. TNP PHOTO ILLUSTRATION
Terror groups may tap on match fixers
It would not be unreasonable to assume a terror group is tapping on the expertise of Singapore match-fixing syndicates, said former Fifa security head Chris Eaton.
The keynote speaker at the World Lottery Summit Singapore yesterday, told The New Paper on the sidelines: "I would not be surprised at all if Singapore criminals are being used by terrorist organisations to raise money. In the end, it's the money motivation that they copy."
Since 2010, Mr Eaton and his team of investigators have uncovered numerous fixes - including international friendlies and warm-up matches ahead of the 2010 World Cup in South Africa - executed by Singaporeans such as Wilson Raj Perumal and alleged kingpin Dan Tan Seet Eng.
Investigations revealed that the Singaporeans were well-connected to organised crime syndicates in Europe and had an established infrastructure to move money globally.
Italian court documents showed that the Singapore kelong syndicate allegedly headed by Mr Tan had made several million euros rigging matches in Italy's Serie A and Serie B.
"Historically, terrorism has always copied organised crime in making money," said Mr Eaton.
"Often they'll employ organised crime to do the collecting for them because they know how to corrupt politicians and players."
Equally of concern are football and sport clubs being used as "radicalisation tools" in countries like Bahrain and parts of North Africa, he added.
"Because you already have kids who are ready to follow a leader, to be influenced by a hero and to be told they have a mission in life to win.
"You put this whole motivation in sport and you put into a terrorist environment, it becomes ready-made," he said.
After Singapore Pools chief executive officer Seah Chin Siong's address, "What's the fight now and what's next in the fight against match fixing?" at the Global Lottery Monitoring System session yesterday, four experts gave their views.
One of them, Mr Friedrich Martens, head of Integrity Betting Intelligence System from the International Olympic Committee, said match fixing in Olympic sports paled in comparison to football because of the lower stakes involved.
While some experts have claimed the size of global football betting pie to be in the region of US$500 billion (S$695b) to US$1 trillion, the estimated betting pie for the Rio 2016 Olympics was between 6 and 10 billion euros (S$9b and S$15b), he said.
He also said there were no cases of manipulation of an Olympic event at Rio 2016.
Ms Daniela Giuffre, head of the Integrity in Sport Unit at Interpol, said she had noticed a trend in Interpol's Soga (Soccer Gambling) operations.
Despite the arrest of more than 12,000 people in 7,400 raids in several Asian countries and the recovery of more than US$53 million in recent years, less cash was seized each time.
This is because organised crime groups are moving towards Internet gambling and even betting on legal sports betting sites.
I would not be surprised at all if Singapore criminals are being used by terrorist organisations to raise money. In the end, it's the money motivation that they copy.
- Mr Chris Eaton, former Fifa head of security and ex-Interpol officer
EXPERTS: Mr Chris Eaton, former Fifa head of security and ex-Interpol officer, and Ms Daniela Giuffre, Head of Integrity in Sport at Interpol, were among the speakers at yesterday's World Lottery Summit Singapore 2016.