Arrests in France over Algeria match-fixing claims

By Philippe Auclair BBC News Arabic
A football fan in Algeria
Algerian fans are massively passionate - but how much can they trust what they watch?

The Algerian football match-fixing and bribery scandal which the BBC reported on last year is back in the spotlight after a new wave of arrests in France.

Four employees of online gambling company Winamax have been put in custody and interrogated by investigators from French gambling supervision unit, the SCCJ (the Service Central des Courses et Jeux).

The quartet were apprehended on 16 December in relation to suspect bets placed on an Algerian Ligue 1 match between DRB Tadjenanet and ES Setif, which took place on 12 May 2018, the penultimate day of the 2017-18 season.

The arrests were first reported by French sports daily L'Équipe.

Winamax has confirmed to the newspaper that their information was correct.

While four people have been detained so far - it is understood the SCCJ wishes to question up to 15 in total.

The game in question, in which three penalties were awarded, was among the matches flagged to BBC News Arabic by sources when the BBC conducted its two-year-long investigation into match-fixing and bribery of officials in Algerian football last year.

BBC News Arabicexternal-link has been told that this match had been deemed "suspicious" by an international sports watchdog at the time, but that the evidence gathered then had been insufficient for this body to act.

DRB Tadjenanet, who were in danger of being relegated at the time, won 3-2 against then title holders Setif, who were in mid-table and had little to play for at that late stage of the season.

The victory enabled DRB Tadjenanet to survive.

Whistle-blowers tell the BBC how bribery impacts on all levels of football in Algeria

Seven people had already been arrested in eastern France in May, two of whom - both young men in their 20s - were charged with "criminal conspiracy" and "attempt to defraud" in relation to bets they had placed on this game.

The charges came after the regulatory body in charge of gambling in France, ARJEL (Autorité de Régulation des Jeux en Ligne), detected very unusual patterns of betting on the eve of the match.

Large sums had been wagered on a 3-2 win for DRB Tadjenanet, at odds of between 30 and 40 to 1. This means that if you had bet $1, you would have received $30-40 in return.

"What caught [our] attention was the number of bets, but also their amount," Nancy Deputy Prosecutor Vincent Légaut said at the time. "One French gambler had bet €1,000 ($1,100; £850), which should have earned him €40,000."

A number of online betting sites had been used by the suspects, whose identity has not been made public and all of whom come from the Lorraine region.

The liability of the websites amounted to over €100,000 in total.

ARJEL, however, has the power to invalidate all bets on games they have reason to think have been targeted by match-fixers and acted accordingly in this case.

No money was paid out to the alleged conspirators.

It now appears that the "tip" had been leaked to Winamax employees before the match took place, some of whom are said by a source close to the investigation to have placed smaller bets on a 3-2 win for DRB Tadjenanet.

This development will be of particular concern to the authorities fighting match-fixing.

It is thought that it is the first time that employees of a gambling company are suspected of having taken part in a criminal scheme of that kind, either actively - by placing a bet - or passively, in failing to act on credible information passed on to them about a suspicious game.

The other major source of concern is that it appears to show that the Algerian match-fixing scandal which the BBC reported on last year has an international dimension.

Until now, it had been thought that match-fixing in Algeria was predominantly a domestic problem primarily motivated by the desire to achieve political gain, win titles or prevent relegation, not to rig betting markets.

This no longer appears to be the case.

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