SINGAPORE - Singapore police said they have arrested 18 people believed to be part of a multi-million dollar illegal football betting ring less than a month before the World Cup starts.
"Preliminary investigations revealed that the suspects are believed to have received illegal football bets amounting to an estimated S$8 million ($6.4 million) in the past two weeks alone," the force said in a statement released on its website late Monday.
It did not reveal the nationalities of the suspects, 16 women and two men, who were detained during raids on Sunday and Monday.
Cash totalling S$1.4 million as well as computers, mobile phones, and documents detailing betting and bank transaction records were seized during the raid, police said.
"Bookmakers and bettors who assume that they can hide behind the anonymity of the Internet to commit criminal offences should think twice," deputy assistant commissioner of police Kenny Tan warned in the statement.
"The police will find them and prosecute both bookmakers and bettors alike to the fullest extent of the law."
If convicted, the suspects face fines of between Sg$20,000 and Sg$200,000 and up to five years in jail.
Sports betting is deeply entrenched in wealthy Singapore, with top European league matches the most favoured among punters.
The Singapore Totalisator Board, which manages the country's two legal football betting and lottery companies, saw revenues of US$983.3 million in the year to March 2013, from a total population of just 5.4 million.
Experts say there are dozens of illegal football betting outfits in the city-state. Last year, Singapore police nabbed fourteen people believed to be members of a global match-fixing syndicate, including the suspected mastermind Dan Tan.
In June last year, three Lebanese referees were convicted by a Singapore court of accepting sexual services in return for fixing future games.
Singaporean businessman Eric Ding, who is accused of offering the bribes, is currently on trial.
The recent arrests in Singapore comes just days after the Doha-based watchdog group International Centre for Sport Security warned in a report that Asian-dominated criminal groups are laundering more than US$140 billion of illegal sports betting, mainly on football.
The report, which also involved researchers from Sorbonne University in Paris, said Asia accounts for 53 per cent of the global illegal sports betting market.
Apart from football and cricket, it said tennis, basketball, badminton and motor racing are also affected by illegal sports betting.
Globally, wagers worth between US$275 billion and US$685 billion are made each year, with more than 80 per cent made illegally.