HONG KONG (Reuters) - Hong Kong police have smashed a vast, cross-border bookmaking syndicate in Hong Kong and southern China targeting the soccer World Cup which had taken in around 7 billion yuan (679.9 million pounds) of illegal bets.
The Hong Kong police said 74 people were arrested in Hong Kong and 29 in China during the operation codenamed “Copperflame,” mounted in co-operation with police in the southern Chinese province of Guangdong.
Investigators said it was the largest syndicate of its kind to be smashed by police in the financial hub and former British colony that returned to Chinese rule in 1997.
The people were suspected of committing bookmaking crimes, with the seizure of betting records worth around seven billion yuan along with illegal gambling-related items, the statement said. Police said the syndicate had collected predominantly online bets from punters.
The lion’s share of the bets were believed to have been wagered on soccer matches, with the World Cup now taking place in South Africa.
“Police are committed to combating illegal bookmaking activities through intelligence-led operations and liaison with neighbouring enforcement agencies during the World Cup tournament,” the police statement added.
Police investigations found evidence that the syndicate had used more than 400 bank accounts in Hong Kong and in mainland China to launder their gambling proceeds.
Earlier this week, a state Chinese media report said Chinese police had smashed a secretive, online betting network, with the alleged ringleader “Dark Brother” accused of dealings worth 100 billion yuan ($14.7 billion).
It was not immediately clear if this criminal gang was linked in any way to the syndicate broken up by Hong Kong police.
With gambling highly restricted in Communist China, a flood of Chinese punters have in recent years poured into the southern Chinese casino haven of Macau, helping catapult it past Las Vegas as the world’s largest gambling market.
Reporting by James Pomfret; Editing by Ron Popeski