LYON, France (AFP) - Police in China, Malaysia, Singapore and Thailand arrested more than 5,000 people in a coordinated swoop against illegal football betting during the World Cup, Interpol said Friday.
The international police agency, which helped coordinate the month-long operation, said officers had raided more than 800 illegal gambling dens that had handled more than 155 million dollars (119 million euros) in bets.
"The results we have seen are impressive," said Interpol executive director for police services Jean-Michel Louboutin, in a statement released by the agency's headquarters in Lyon, central France.
"As well as having clear connections to organised crime, illegal soccer gambling is also linked with corruption, money laundering and prostitution," he said, declaring a blow had been struck against underworld gangs.
The operation ran between June 11 and July 11, during a time when hundreds of millions of fans around the globe were glued to their television screens, following the action from the 2010 FIFA World Cup in South Africa.
Many supporters were also tempted to gamble on the results, sometimes legally and sometimes with unlicensed and often crooked bookmakers.
In the operation, police seized 10 million dollars in cash along with other alleged criminal assets such as cars, bank cards, computers and mobile phones, Louboutin said in his statement.
"The information gathered will now be reviewed and analysed to determine the potential involvement of other individuals or gangs across the region and beyond," he warned.
"The experience and expertise developed in each of these types of operations provides an even stronger base from which police can work," he said, praising the close cooperation between the Asian police forces.
The World Cup operation was dubbed SOGA III, following two previous but smaller series of raids.
In all, these operations have led to nearly 7,000 arrests, the seizure of more than 26 million dollars in cash and the closure of illegal gambling dens which handled more than two billion dollars' worth of bets, Interpol said.
Friday's announcement came a week after Hong Kong, one of the Chinese territories which took part in the SOGA III operation, announced that it had smashed a huge illegal football gambling syndicate.
Officers arrested 93 people from Hong Kong and the mainland in a joint operation, broadcaster RTHK said. A large amount of betting slips were seized, including seven billion yuan (1.03 billion dollars) from the mainland.
Police said the syndicate mainly received online and telephone bets through more than 400 bank accounts, the largest number of accounts involved in a local illegal soccer betting case, according to Cable TV.
But some say illegal bookmakers offer better odds and easier credit terms, although failure to repay can lead to violent reprisals.
Legal attitudes to sports betting vary wildly around the world.
In Britain, a large and generally well regulated betting industry did record business during the World Cup, and in neighbouring France the law was loosened to allow Internet betting for the first time.
In parts of Asia, however, the practice remains illegal, despite the massive underground industry revealed by the latest police raids.
In Malaysia, for example, sports betting was only made legal last month -- angering conservative Islamists -- but the licences were not ready in time for the World Cup and a police task force was assigned to lead a crackdown.