Match-Fixing ‘Maestro’ Arrested as Police Break Up Massive Tennis Corruption Op

Posted on: January 17, 2019, 04:17h. 

Last updated on: January 17, 2019, 04:44h.

Police in Europe believe they have arrested the “Mr. Big” of tennis match-fixing.

The Associated Press reports that a man known to tennis players “the Maestro” is suspected of fronting a massive match-fixing operation that targeted low-level professional tournaments and convinced over 100 players to throw “hundreds” of matches for money.

The Maestro is Grigor Sargsyan, 28, a Belgium-based Armenian who is currently held in a Belgian jail. Sources told the Associated Press under condition of anonymity that four French players are also currently in police custody — Jules Okala, 21; Mick Lescure, 25; Yannick Thivant, 31; and Jerome Inzerillo, 28 — one of whom has admitted to throwing around two dozen matches for Sargsyan, the sources said.

‘Tsunami of Corruption’

That tennis has a match-fixing problem is nothing new. A report by the Independent Review Panel of the Tennis Integrity Unit published last year found that the sport had been “engulfed by a tsunami of corruption” at the lower levels of the game.

The panel said that poor prize money available to players lower down in the pecking order make them vulnerable to match-fixers, noting that many in the Futures circuits are barely able to break even, and that’s before accounting and coaching costs.

The International Tennis Federation estimates that of 14,000 players trying to make a living from the sport, half do not make any money at all.

Okala and Lescure were reportedly arrested earlier this week as they were about to begin a tournament in Bressuire, France, that offered a total of just $15,000 in prize money.

The panel recommended a ban on live streaming and live scoring feeds at the lowest tier of professional tennis, which would prevent bookmakers offering markets on the games.

15 Arrested in Spain

Police say Sargsyan’s operations were organized via encrypted messaging and that players were paid between $570 and $3,400 to throw matches. The Armenian employed hundreds of mules, hired for peanuts, to place bets on games. The stakes were always small to avoid detection, but profits were big due to the sheer volume of bets being placed.

The news comes just one week after Spanish police arrested 15 people with links to an Armenian criminal gang on suspicion of match-fixing, among them the Spanish tennis player Marc Fornell-Mestres. Authorities said in all 28 players from the ITF Futures and Challengers Tours had been implicated.

French and Spanish police are working together to ascertain whether the cases are linked.