: Operation "Matryoshka": Russian mafia penetrates European football clubs

15:17 May. 5, 2016

Operation "Matryoshka": Russian mafia penetrates European football clubs

A Russian traditional wooden matryoshka doll showing Russian President Vladimir Putin, with the sign Russia, on sale in a street souvenir shop in Moscow, Dec. 2, 2015 (AP photo)

Europol uncovers organised crime ring linked to Russia

European and Portuguese police have broken up a transnational criminal group consisting mainly of Russian citizens. Authorities say the suspected mobsters were laundering money through football clubs in Portugal.

According to Europol, the investigation has been underway for a year and 70 Portuguese police officers have been involved. As a result of the operation, they arrested 3 key members of the gang and raided 22 houses and companies, including four major football clubs.

Read also Mafia friends of President Putin wanted in Spain

The European Union's law enforcement agency said the criminal organization identified E.U. football clubs in financial distress and infiltrated them with benefactors who brought much-needed cash. Once they were in control, the mobsters allegedly laundered millions of euros through player transfers, TV copyright deals, and betting.

On May 3, Portuguese and European police raided third-division Portuguese club Uniao de Leiria, and two Lisbon clubs, Benfica, and Sporting. The former is owned by Russian businessman Aleksandr Tolstikov who was detained on suspicion of tax fraud, criminal association, money laundering, corruption and forgery of documents, according to Antonio Sintra, head of the Leiria Department of Criminal Investigation of the Portuguese Police.

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Tolstikov bought the bankrupt club in 2014, which was coached by Jose Mourinho in 2001-2002, and last year it had as many as seven young Russian players.

Europol said the operation helped identify serious crimes in Austria, Germany, and the United Kingdom no details specified.

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