NEWS

Many names among football pools winners rouse suspicions of large money-laundering operation

Names of prominent figures associated with illegal gambling and nightclubs – as well as journalists, bodyguards, well-known football club officials, players and referees and a number of minor underworld figures – feature on the state betting agency’s (OPAP) official lists of football pool winners that show about 1,200 people won amounts of over 100,000 euros between January 1, 2000 and July 21, 2004. Nearly a year and a half ago, OPAP asked the Finance Ministry police (SDOE) for an investigation of all major prize winners of the football pool (PRO-PO), Lotto and other games that paid out a total of 536 million euros during this four-and-a-half-year period. While no one would expect the list to include academics, it appears clear that among the truly lucky (regular and chance players) are names that would give pause to even the most naive. A small category of minor celebrities, led by middle-rank football club (PAE) officials and some referees, appear to be very lucky indeed: During that period, they won frequently or secured one very large sum at least once. Over a two- or three-year period, entire families, along with their friends and relatives, broke the OPAP bank to the tune of tens of millions of euros. Meanwhile, the names of other prominent, respected figures might, under closer inspection, turn out to be nothing more than a front. The laundering of cocaine money is one of the main uses for OPAP lists by entire crime rackets who also launder bribes and fund football conspiracies. The list also includes a number of false names and addresses on behalf of whom OPAP staff have taken receipt of over 350 winning bets. Incomplete checks Despite these revelations of the weaknesses in OPAP’s checking system, the officials in charge have not been eager to deal with such a large-scale money-laundering operation. In July 2004, the then OPAP president, Sotiris Kostakos, asked for a comprehensive audit of winners of amounts over 100,000. But this was not completed. SDOE did fully investigate the affairs of Alexandros Angelopoulos, in custody awaiting trial for transporting and trading in tons of cocaine. But it failed to do so in the case of Stamatina Marmara (the wife of Giorgos Salonikis), evoking the suspicion that the Socrates Kokkalis group, which has been involved in the state betting system for years, may be offering some protection. After Kathimerini released the SDOE report on November 1, judicial circles indicated that there could have been a cover-up of Marmara’s affairs. No check was made of her winning tickets, bought all over the country, nor her sources of assets. SDOE found it sufficient to record her statement that her income justified some 12 million euros she had gambled over two years, during which time she had won 11 million euros. SDOE showed no interest in her husband managing and holding shares in Intralot, which organizes the Stoichima game, nor in his many years of involvement in the Olympiakos football club. It appears Marmara does little else but play Stoichima with staff (a driver and accountant) to deal with the bets, wins and official receipts of wins. Since the news broke, the investigation looks like it has started, since criminal charges made since March should at least lead to the naming of some people on money-laundering charges and others for issuing false statements of gains. However, the system appears to have secured protection and is continuing to reap gains. New moves A few days before Kathimerini’s first report (on October 27), Marmara had reappeared at OPAP. By mid-October she had received two new statements of wins of about 700,000 euros, even though she had been investigated in July 2004 over a statement that she had won 7.5 million euros and had been interrogated by SDOE. The OPAP winner’s list shows that Marmara had won millions of euros over a three-year period. In 2003 she received three statements from OPAP for wins of 391,877.61 euros, 4,143,065.42 euros and 271,908.34 euros. However, her really lucky year seems to have been 2004, when she received statements for over 7,221,007.85 euros. Last Thursday OPAP’s board met to discuss the audit system, not only because of the publicity but because of new statements she appears to have received. OPAP decided to ask in writing for the SDOE report, which it said it had never received, although there are extensive references both to the failures in the system of checks as well as to illegal dealings by staff and OPAP agents. According to sources, another request has been sent both to the chief public prosecutor and to the SDOE prosecutor for an investigation of all 1,200 winners, a year and a half after the initial request was made. The delay has no doubt provided plenty of opportunity for a cover-up by those required to show their source of income. But statements from ministries who share responsibility for OPAP that «they’ll go to court» give the impression of a lack of real will to deal with a major money-laundering operation being used by prominent and well-known gamblers, who always win.