Soccer betting targeted in China - Wednesday 9th of December 2009

Police in Hunan province have tracked down three criminal groups that organized betting on soccer via the Internet.

More than 600 million yuan ($88 million) have reportedly been wagered since 2007.

Twenty-two suspects including the three leaders, Feng Bifei, Wang Chao, and Guo Yanting, were arrested in Xiangtan city.

"This case of gambling involves the largest amount of money in Hunans history," said Yang Zhihai, a Xiangtan police officer.

"The investigation took about half a year," Yang said.

The three leading suspects are agents in China for foreign online gambling companies. Feng himself is working for several companies at once. He recruited 13 second-level agents for him, who then recruited third level agents whose job is to attract club members to bet on games online.

According to police, the highest bet made by members of Fengs club was 170,000 yuan.

Within one week, they collected wagers of more than 20 million yuan.

"The real dealers are foreign companies, and they can bribe players or a team to get the result they want," Yang said.

He Xinping, a soccer commentator, said in China it usually takes about 100,000 yuan to bribe a referee and 500,000 to bribe a team.

He said one reason that bribery and match-fixing are so common in soccer is that the gap between different players salaries is very large, and those who are poorly paid cannot resist the temptation.

While China has improved in the sporting arena and topped the medal table at last years Beijing Olympics, soccer has proven the exception.

The Ministry of Public Security announced last week that a number of former players, soccer officials and club officials had been detained.

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