Portuguese football “used to launder millions from organised crime in Russia”

Following the concerted police swoop on Benfica, Sporting and Sporting de Braga football clubs yesterday, the enormity of this latest corruption probe, dubbed Operation Matrioskas, is finally emerging.

Europol and Scotland Yard are “accompanying developments”, while “the complex network of money” has been under investigation since 2015.

According to national tabloid Correio da Manhã, dirty money from organised crime in Russia has been laundered through various countries throughout the world (including UK), passing through the tax haven of the Seychelles.

In Portugal, Russian football bosses are believed to have played their part using player transfers as the blind.

Head of União de Leiria club, Alexander Tolstikov – now in preventive custody – is thought to have led operations, using his club as the façade for both money-laundering and “establishing contacts and diversifying”, claims the paper.

Along with Tolstikov, another Russian and União de Leiria FC’s accountant remain behind bars while three other ‘arguidos’ have been allowed to go free, on the understanding that they remain within their area of residence.

Under the microscope are various player transfers in which “parallel accounting” shows “huge differences” between the real values and those which the businesses involved were claiming.

Anyone who follows national club football will be aware of the transfers from União de Leiria to Benfica of Russians Vitali Lystov and Ivan Zlobin – or the transfer of Tomas Rukas and Stanislav Kritsyuk to Sporting Braga.

CM’s understanding is that the Russian companies involved announced transfer deals at “much higher values” than that which was actually paid.

Thus the swoop on Tuesday which involved hundreds of agents, backed by the public ministry and representatives of the Law Association.

In all, 20 offices, some of them law firms, as well as private homes were searched and the understanding is that more arrests could follow.

For now, transfers involving 40 players are under scrutiny, enmeshing other clubs throughout the country.

CM adds that the number of Chinese players that have suddenly started appearing in Portuguese clubs is also being looked at.

“Chinese, for example, run the public limited sports company (SAD) of Atlético Clube de Portugal since 2013. The club has been in a report for “elevated risk of manipulation and corrupt activities”, says CM.

Meantime, the choice of “Matrioskas” as the name for this latest corruption probe comes from the name for traditonal Russian painted dolls which encase increasingly smaller versions of themselves.

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