Italian police have detained an associate of soccer matchfixing suspect Tan Seet Eng at Milan's Malpensa airport, two judicial sources told Reuters on Thursday, following a tip-off by Singapore authorities.
The man was identified as Admir Suljic, who arrived in Milan from Singapore early on Thursday. Suljic would be taken to Cremona in Italy where he is part of an investigation by prosecutors, said one judicial source.
A joint inquiry by Europol, the European anti-crime agency, and national prosecutors identified about 680 suspicious matches including qualifying games for the World Cup and European Championships, and for Europe's Champions League.
Italian prosecutors have accused Tan, also known as Dan Tan, of heading an organisation to fix soccer matches worldwide and Italian police have issued an arrest warrant for him.
"The man is wanted by the Italian authorities for his alleged involvement in matchfixing under the organisation based in Singapore and controlled by Tan Seet Eng," said Ronald Noble, the INTERPOL chief, speaking at a conference on combating matchfixing in the Malaysian capital Kuala Lumpur.
Noble declined to give further details.
INTERPOL has declined to say if it has declared Singapore national Tan an internationally wanted person, but an Italian judicial source said INTERPOL had pooled together investigations launched by authorities in various countries including Italy, Germany, Spain and Turkey.
Singapore says he is not wanted there, but that it is working with European authorities investigating the syndicate.
Singapore police said on Thursday it was sending a team of four officers to INTERPOL within the next two weeks to assist in matchfixing investigations and that the city-state remained "committed" in the fight against matchfixing.
Singapore allows suspects to be sent only to countries with which it has an extradition treaty. Germany has such a treaty with Singapore but Italy, which made the original complaint about matchfixers manipulating Italian games, does not.
Noble, who had previously told Singapore's Straits Times newspaper it would be unfortunate if Singapore's "well-earned anti-crime reputation" suffered from the allegations, said he did not agree with criticism that Singapore is not doing enough to fight matchfixing.
"I think the case I told you about, the case that is unfolding right now, makes it clear that Singaporeans like European Union investigators and judges are required to follow their law."
The INTERPOL investigation has shone a spotlight on what experts say is rampant matchfixing in Asia, where lax regulation combined with a huge betting market have made soccer a prime target for crime syndicates.
Last year the head of an anti-corruption watchdog estimated that $1 trillion was gambled on sport each year - or $3 billion a day - with most coming from Asia and wagered on soccer matches.