Criminals and oligarchs in EU’s sights with new bill targeting football fraud

Legislation will bring seismic change to the industry and aims to stamp out money laundering

Not for the first time in the history of the European parliament, it all started in Belgium. An investigation into alleged bribery, money-laundering, forged transfer contracts and the involvement of organised crime at the highest levels of professional football that began in 2018 eventually implicated almost 60 agents, administrators, referees and coaches.

Known as Operation Clean Hands, the level of alleged corruption it uncovered not only led to the establishment of new strict financial regulations for clubs in Belgium but also opened eyes in the corridors of power in Brussels. In 2019, football was added to the European Union’s watchlist of money-laundering risks, with a United Nations report estimating that around $140bn is laundered through the game every year. Yet while many leagues already have strict financial regulations aimed at preventing fraud, the French MEP, Damien Carême, believes the concern has been more focused on complying with financial fair play regulations than stopping corruption.

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