The world of sports in Brazil holds its breath as details become known of what is now popularly called the “soccer mafia’”: a complex group of gamblers who recruited players to offer them money in exchange for executing in the field very specific plays; from a yellow card to a penalty. Until now, the investigation mainly affects players and teams from the second division, but this week all the alarms went off when Flamengo, one of the biggest clubs in the country, appeared cited by some investigated.
At the end of January, one of the bettors in the crosshairs of justice, Luís Felipe de Castro, was trying to convince the Argentine side Kevin Lomónaco, from Bragantino, to cause a penalty in the next game of the Paulista Championship. He offered her 200,000 reais (40,000 dollars or 37,000 euros). To convince him and encourage him to participate in betting on several matches, the bettor claimed to have a Flamengo player: “Tomorrow we have a Flamengo player, so you have to do it too so that everyone wins […]. Come on, brother, we will pay you the value of the operation and also what I owe you,” he told him on WhatAapp, according to the newspaper O Globo.
Flamengo, which does not have any player formally accused, is not the only great team cited by bettors. The head of the match manipulation scheme, Bruno López, claimed he had contact with eight Botafogo players, and Fluminense sacked defender Vitor Mendes after he was cited in the investigation. At the moment, the investigation affects matches of the Brazilian Championship of series A and B (the first and second division) in 2022 and in state competitions in 2023. There are more than 50 players cited, of which 15 are already charged. In addition, ten players have been removed by their clubs in recent days, including defender Eduardo Bauermann, from Santos.
Although for now the front-line teams are dodging the scandal as best they can, everything could change in the coming weeks, because the investigation continues to advance and the intention of the Goiás State Prosecutor’s Office, where it all began, is to file new complaints, as he explained. in a telephone conversation the prosecutor Fernando Cesconetto. “We have several reports of the content found on cell phones, countless conversations, spreadsheets, notes… We have not yet finished verifying all this material, and we still have to deepen the analysis of the bank data. Nothing can be ruled out, ”he assures.
What has been discovered so far refers only to the period from the second half of 2022 to April of this year, and it could be just the tip of the iceberg. At the moment, there are no referees involved and the only prisoners are the gamblers. The prosecutor explains that the players, at least based on what is known so far, participated in the scheme sporadically and were not at the core of the scheme, so there is no need for preventive arrests.
“A very complex system”
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The ringleader was López, who had a sports career management company. He worked hand in hand with his wife, but from there ramifications came out in all directions: “It is a very complex system for a single person to operate. There was order and hierarchy, division of tasks, several nuclei of action”, comments the prosecutor. Some were in charge of contacting the players, others of giving the down payment, others of delivering the reward, etc. In the Bet365 and Betano portals, the most used, they bet from various accounts so as not to arouse suspicion, and from time to time they even allowed themselves to lose some money to mislead. It was more than worth it, because on a good day, the group could pocket 700,000 reais.
During the interrogations, some players assured that they did not know that what they were doing was illegal, such as the defender Victor Ramos, who was in the Portuguesa at the time of the investigations and today wears the Chapecoense shirt. “I don’t know much about these things, I’m very disconnected from these internet things, I didn’t know that talking about gambling was going to generate this in my life, this tumult, this turbulence,” he said. For the prosecutor, there is no valid excuse, they knew what they were doing. “It is not natural for a person to receive money to be sent off the field or to cause a penalty against his own team, it is something intuitive,” he remarks.
Just in case, in recent weeks clubs like Flamengo, Corinthians or Atlético Mineiro have been organizing talks informing their players about the risks of illegal betting on the internet. The players involved may end up answering for crimes of belonging to a criminal organization, money laundering and corruption in the sports field, with penalties ranging from two to eight years in prison.
In recent days, the matter has ceased to be a strictly sports issue and has moved to the pages of politics. The Government is already preparing a bill that provides for the creation of a regulatory agency for online betting companies. In Brazil they have been legal since 2018, but the sector grew exponentially without specific rules. In addition, the Chamber of Deputies established a parliamentary commission to investigate the facts. Deputy Felipe Carreras, who will coordinate the work, warned of the potential for the scandal: “We have information that this goes much further, reaches many more competitions, and is deep-rooted,” he told the local press.
According to him, there are reports of manipulated matches also in the third division, in which players who earn much less face the “power of seduction to enter criminality.” He believes that the Brazilian Football Confederation (CBF) has not been proactive, and he does not rule out that the situation will end up resembling that of Italy in 2005, when a refereeing influence scandal ended with major sanctions against heavyweights such as Juventus, AC Milan , Fiorentina and Lazio. “It is something that only the parliamentary commission and the investigations will answer in the end. But Brazilian soccer is sick, ”he warned.
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