LISBON, Portugal -- Portuguese and European police say they have broken up a cell of an important Russian mafia group that allegedly laundered money through European football clubs.
Europol, the European Union's law enforcement agency, said in a statement on Wednesday the group identified EU football clubs in financial distress and infiltrated them with benefactors who brought much-needed cash.
Once they were in control, the mobsters allegedly laundered millions of euros through player transfers, TV rights deals and betting.
Portuguese and European police on Tuesday raided third-division Portuguese club Uniao de Leiria and arrested three key members of the Russian gang. Three other Portuguese clubs' premises were searched.
Europol said the operation helped identify serious crimes in Austria, Germany, and the United Kingdom, though it gave no details.
Head of Europol's Financial Intelligence Group, Igor Angelini, said: "The misuse of offshore companies to conceal the beneficial ownership of assets is still one of the major challenges for successful financial investigations.
"These barriers also frustrate the attempts of investigators to trace the origin of the money, often criminal, which is re-invested in sectors prone to such infiltration. The football sector presents vulnerabilities related to its structure, finance model and culture which could be exploited by criminals."