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Thousands held in Asian gambling bust

By the CNN Wire Staff
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Thousands held in Asian gambling bust
  • More than 5,000 people were arrested in Asia
  • Operations were in China, Malaysia, Singapore and Thailand
  • The operation occurred during the World Cup period
  • FIFA World Cup
  • Interpol
  • Thailand

(CNN) -- More than 5,000 people have been arrested and nearly $10 million seized in an operation targeting alleged illegal soccer gambling in Asia during the World Cup, Interpol reported Friday.

The international police agency said it coordinated a month-long operation codenamed SOGA III, targeting activities linked to organized crime.

Police raided "800 illegal gambling dens in China, Malaysia, Singapore and Thailand. The agency said the dens handled more than $155 million worth of bets.

"The results we have seen are impressive, not only in the number of arrests and seizures made across the region in just one month, but in terms of the police cooperation which made this possible," said Jean-Michel Louboutin, Interpol's executive director of police services.

"As well as having clear connections to organized crime gangs, illegal soccer gambling is also linked with corruption, money laundering and prostitution, and Operation SOGA III will also have a significant long term impact on these serious offenses as well," Louboutin said.

The operation ran during the World Cup period from June 11 to July 11.

Cars, bank cards, computers and mobile phones were seized, and the information will be reviewed to see whether other people or entities are involved.

"The experience and expertise developed in each of these types of operations provides an even stronger base from which police can work, not only in targeting the organized crime networks behind illegal soccer gambling, but in combating all types of criminal activity which require a regional or international response," Louboutin said.

Interpol, based in Lyon, France, coordinated the operation with its office in Bangkok, Thailand. Interpol said it was the third of its kind. All totaled, the three separate operations resulted in 7,000 people arrested, $26 million seized and illegal gambling dens that handled more than $2 billion closed.

Governments have released details of these latest busts in their respective countries over the month, such as Hong Kong in China.

Hong Kong police, which dubbed its local operation "Crowbeak," said on Friday it arrested 235 people, seized $361 million in betting slips, and arrested males and females ranging in age from 16 to 79 years.

Hong Kong police worked with their counterparts in Shenzhen and Guangdong to bust two "significant cross-boundary" operations.

"Officers of the Police Technology Crime Division are currently examining the computers and server seized during the operations to investigate the identities of bookmakers, agents and punters," police said. Punters are people placing bets.

Police engaged in an anti-illegal bookmaking efforts and created an anti-illegal bookmaking webpage.

"Illegal bookmakers had used mobile phones and the Internet as platforms for receiving bets. With wider use of the internet and the increasing number of internet users, police believe that more criminals will take advantage of this platform to commit crimes and police will adopt appropriate measures in combating such crimes."

Hong Kong police have started financial probes in order to recover money and cut the incomes of "criminal gangs."

"Police also discovered that bookmakers and agents had continued to operate on a number of levels. Agents at lower levels, after receiving bets from punters, had referred bets to bookmakers at higher levels or even official betting companies, so as to reduce their risks or gain commission. Some bookmakers even used others' bank accounts to receive bets and handle crime proceeds in order to cover up their own identities," police said.

Last month, China's state-run news agency Xinhua reported that police in the northeastern city of Shenyang broke an illegal soccer gambling ring ahead of the World Cup.