During the Australian Open in 2016, ITF President David Haggarty, Tennis Integration Board Chairman Philippe Brook and ATP President Chris Kermod attended a press conference to combat match fixing. (Getty)
The curling tennis player knew him as Maestro. For European investigators, the Armenian official in Belgium emerges as a suspected head of an organized gambling syndicate, suspected of fixing hundreds of matches and paying more than 100 players across Europe.
As Roger Federer and other top tennis stars compete in the Australian Open, players down the sport chain are questioned this week by police in France on suspicion of fixing matches for Grigor Sarkisian, a 28-year-old acquaintance like the Maestro, the investigators said. Sarkisian is in a Belgian prison.
The picture, which has been emerging for months of police eruption across Europe, is a massive match-fixing scheme organized through encrypted messages involving dozens of low-ranking players in small tournaments with little cash prizes. The police said Sarkisyan had hired mules, people were hired for a few euros (dollars) to make syndication bets that were small enough to get out of the radar of gambling observers.
Sources close to the investigation, all with condition of anonymity because they had no right to discuss details publicly, said four French players were in police custody on Wednesday and at least one of them told the investigators that he had assigned about two dozen matches for Sarkisian. ,
They called the players like Jules Okala, 21? Mick Lescure, 25; Yannick Thivant, 31; and Jerome Inzerillo, 28. No one works in the highest spheres of tennis. The best career ranking of any of them was No. 354 reached by Inzerillo in 2012. Okala and Lescure's arrests were first reported on Wednesday by the French sports newspaper. L 'Equipe,
It is expected that a dozen or more French players will be questioned in the coming weeks. A researcher said France is one of the most affected parties in the union that is targeting lower-level pro-tournaments. Okala and Lescure were detained before playing in the modest tournament in Bressuire, West France this week, which offers a total of $ 15,000 awards.
Investigators also questioned players in Belgium, the Netherlands, Germany, Slovakia and Bulgaria and are looking for other issues, including players and managers, in the United States, Chile and Egypt.
Altogether, more than 100 players are suspected of having worked with the union, fixing matches, kits or games in return for payments from 500 to 3000 euros ($ 570 to $ 3,400).
"The impression we get is that it is very common," one of the Associated Press employees said. Another said several hundred matches were considered fixed.
Investigators fear that players used by the syndicate can suck others into the scheme and continue to infect larger tournaments if they climb higher in the rankings.
"Over time, they could be managers of other new players or trainers, so we have to get them out of the system, or they could corrupt other people in a few years," an Associate Press officer said.
Sarkisyan was swallowed up by a wave of arrests in Belgium last June and is facing organized crime, match fixing, money laundering and counterfeiting. A suspected syndicate banker is also facing money laundering and organized crime charges while four others are being investigated for illegal gambling and finding mules believed to have been paid for placing modest bets on the match trade union , which are fixed.
Since the bets were small, the risk of opening was almost zero, but profits could still be significant if lots of bets were made, an official said.
It is still unclear whether the Belgian trade union is linked to another match-fixing and gambling operation involving Armenians scattered in Spain. Last week, Spanish police reported that 28 professional tennis players, including a participant last year's US Open, are linked to this ring by taking bribes to determine the results that the group is betting on using fake identities.