By Paul Nicholson
July 17 – In 2018 when Insideworldfootball and Rex Sport hosted their Tackling Match-fixing conference in London a number of panellists made the point that betting related match manipulation was the playground of major organised crime gangs.
Some went a stage further saying that for organised crime syndicates it was the perfect crime with very few investigations taking place (despite clear evidence of manipulation in the online betting patterns), even fewer prosecutions, and even fewer convictions.
During coronavirus lockdown there have been a number of games, notably in Russia and the Ukraine, where teams either didn’t take part or weren’t the actual club’s teams/players, but for which data was provided for match-hungry betting markets.
That data was provided by rogue scouts who had infiltrated the betting data suppliers at the front end of the on-site match data collection. Now it appears that profiting from match-fixing and its associated businesses could go deeper into the football business.
One company attracting attention is Federbet, registered in Belgium and where the head of the Ethical Commission of the Ukrainian Football Federation, Francesco Baranca, is General Secretary.
Federbet sells itself as a “non-profit federation and a leader in detection and prevention of illegal practices in sports betting.” In Baranca, the business has a powerful advocate and an insider in the football federation ethics world who has frequently accused rivals such as BetGenius, Perform and Sportradar of facilitating match-fixing by providing data on what turned out to be fixed games.
Clearly that would be positive in advancing Federbet’s own business agenda as they seek to sign governing bodies to their own match monitoring services. However Federbet has itself fallen foul of federations and leagues for media claims it has made drawing censure in the past from the Portuguese FA, as well as France’s LFP and England’s Football Conference for unsubstantiated allegation of match-fixing in those leagues.
However, an intelligence report into Federbet’s ownership and Baranca’s links to two Italian companies, and a deeper corporate and financial connection with suspected match-fixers who have alleged mafia links.
Baranca owns 10% of Famad Srl, and 50% of Agrieffibi Srl – both listed as IT/Software businesses in Bergamo, Italy. His ownership is in partnership with local businessman Andrea Gaiti.
In 2015 Gaiti was initially investigated as part of the Calciocommesse probe into match-fixing in Italian clubs that began in 2011. Gaiti owned a betting shop in Bergamo and came under suspicion over a €50,000 fix that went wrong in a third tier match between Cremona and Spal. The Bergamo prosecutor pointed to a link with a person named as Francesco (and presume to be Baranca) over an attempt to get compensation from the Cremona goalkeeper Marco Paolini.
In November 2018 the Bari prosecutor ordered the arrest of Gaiti for mafia association, money laundering and fraudulent activities associated with illegal betting. According to the investigation coded Galassia, the mafia family clans Tegano, Pesce, Bellocco and Santapaola operated or attempted to operate illegal betting activities online with Gaiti responsible for the expanding the mafia’s business in the north of Italy. In February 2019 Gaiti was due to appear in court. That case is understood to still be ongoing.
Also arrested in November 2018 was Paolo Carlo Teverelli, a former president of integrity body Federbet (where Baranca is General Secretary). Teverelli was charged with money laundering, fraud, illegal betting and mafia association.
He was remanded in custody pending trial but released from prison by a local court as the evidence presented was not accepted as unequivocal proof of his connection to organised crime or mafia businesses. That case is ongoing.
Throughout all of this Baranca has sailed through the corridors of integrity bodies and governing bodies pretty much unchallenged. While UEFA and FIFA have the power to intervene in a national association personnel appointment, there needs to be clear evidence of an ethical violation for them to do so. While Baranca has never been prosecuted his close business associations with those who have does raise eyebrows.
And his involvement with betting companies and Federbet, alongside his position with the ethics commission in Ukraine, is a clear conflict.
Poacher or gamekeeper, UEFA’s ethics function clearly has a foxy operator in its mix.
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