Europol, the European Union’s law enforcement agency, announced it has uncovered more than €10 million (U.S. $11 million) from fictitious soccer player transfers in a money laundering and tax evasion scheme.
In 2018, the Spanish Civil Guard (Guardia Civil) launched an investigation into two soccer agents linked to an unnamed prominent player-representation agency in Europe over suspicions of money laundering and tax evasion. On Feb. 18, several raids were carried out across Spain in properties linked to the suspects, Europol said.
According to Europol’s investigation, the unnamed prominent soccer agents organized fictitious transfers of soccer players through a Cypriot soccer club to launder a large amount of money and evade taxes. The player transfers were made only on paper and with the sole purpose of evading taxes from the lucrative business and serve as a reason for the large money transfers, Europol said.
“This undue profit was then turned into assets, which the agents owned under a corporate name to conceal their identity,” Europol said. After the ghost transfers were made, the suspects used a “very sophisticated network of companies to acquire assets, while hiding their ownership.”
At least €10 million (U.S. $11 million) was put back into Spain through the purchase of luxury assets, including real estate and yachts. “A Maltese ‘gatekeeper’ tax adviser company was helping the agents and their criminal network in setting up the corporate veils to conceal the money flow and true owners of the assets,” Europol said.
The investigation found the soccer agents were part of a criminal network that manages soccer clubs in several countries, including Belgium, Cyprus, and Serbia. These fictitious player transfers were first revealed through social media and a 2016 investigation concerning the soccer leaks.
Europol facilitated the information exchange and coordinated the operational activities between involved national authorities. Europol’s experts also provided analytical and specialist support throughout the investigation. In cooperation with the Spanish Tax Agency, the investigation has led to five prosecutions. Several dozen will be called for court hearings in the coming weeks.