World Cup gamblers arrested in Asia
Police in four countries arrest 5000 people for illegal betting on the World Cup.
Last Modified: 16 Jul 2010 15:01 GMT
Despite opposition, Malaysia recenty legalised betting but new rules came too late for the World Cup [AFP]

An international crackdown in four Asian countries targeting illegal football gambling during the World Cup resulted in more than 5,000 arrests and the seizure of $10m in cash, Interpol has said.

Interpol, the international policing organisation, said on Friday that officers raided 800 illegal gambling dens in Malaysia, Singapore, Thailand and China, including the territories of Hong Kong and Macau.

The dens handled more than $115m in illegal World Cup bets. 

"As well as having clear connections to organised crime gangs, illegal soccer gambling is also linked with corruption, money laundering and prostitution," Jean-Michel Louboutin, Interpol's executive director, said in a statement.

In addition to the cash, officers seized alleged criminal assets including cars, bank cards, computers and mobile phones.

The operation was coordinated from Interpol's headquarters in France and Louboutin praised the close cooperation of Asian police forces.

'Sweep of small players'

Joe Saumarez Smith, news editor of the website betasia.com, told Al Jazeera that the arrests were insignificant compared to the size of the issue.

"Ten million dollars is really an accounting error" compared to the amounts of money changing hands.

"It looks like this has been a sweep-up of a lot of the small players."

The international operation dubbed SOGA III, which followed two smaller gambling raids, ran between June 11 and July 11, as millions around the world were glued to their television screens, following the 2010 Fifa World Cup in South Africa.

Sports betting remains illegal in much of Asia, unlike the most of Europe, even though it is apparently popular with the region's sports fans.

Smith says some of the people involved with sports betting are "shady characters" but others are "genuine book makers" who are forced under-ground because gambling is illegal.

As part of the operation, police raided a casino in Macau, a former Portugese colony in the south of China, which recently over-took Las Vegas to become the world's largest gambling market.

Malaysia legalised sports betting last month, angering conservative groups, but the new licenses were not ready in time for the World Cup and a police task force was assigned to lead a crackdown on gamblers in the country. 

Al Jazeera and agencies
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