Interesting article from the Safer Communities Portugal newsletter:
Judicial Police dismantle Russian Money Laundering ring operating in the football sector
On 3rd May, during Operation Matrioskas, the Portuguese Police (Polícia Judiciária), supported by Europol, dismantled a transnational organised criminal group mainly composed of Russian citizens who were dedicated to money laundering through the football sector.
Active since at least 2008, this criminal network is thought to be a cell of an important Russian mafia group, directly responsible for laundering several million euros across numerous EU countries, most of it believed to derive from criminal activities committed outside the EU area.
The group's known modus operandi is to identify EU football clubs in financial distress, then infiltrate them with benefactors who provide much needed short-term donations or investments.
After gaining trust through donating, these same benefactors orchestrate the purchase of the clubs.
The purchase of such clubs is facilitated by individuals operating as front men for opaque and sophisticated networks of holding companies invariably owned by shell companies registered offshore and in tax havens. Thus the real owners and those who ultimately control the club remain unidentified, as does the true origin of the funds used to purchase them.
Once clubs are under the control of the Russian mafia, the large scope of financial transactions, cross-border money flows, and shortcomings in governance allow clubs to be used to launder dirty money (usually via the over- or under-valuation of players on the transfer market and on television rights deals), as well as for betting activities (both for the generation of illegal proceeds due to match fixing or for pure money laundering purposes).
Using this modus operandi, in July 2015 after a series of donations and investments the criminal group purchased União de Leiria, a club that appeared in the top flight of Portuguese football to start facing serious financial difficulties in 2012 and be relegated to secondary levels.
The operation, involving more than 70 Portuguese police officers and supported on the spot by experts from Europol's Financial Intelligence Group, was the result of more than one year of a challenging and intricate International criminal investigation.
As a result three key members of this organised criminal network were arrested, 22 houses and companies were searched including 4 major football clubs, lawyers' and accounting offices. Several thousand euros in cash (most of it in EUR 500 banknotes) were seized.
The deployment of a Europol team in Leiria, Portugal, assisted Polícia Judiciária officers with real-time intelligence analysis and technical support, which aided the identification of transnational links with serious and organised crimes committed in Austria, Estonia, Germany, Latvia, Moldova and the United Kingdom.