MILAN (AP) — Suspected football match-fixer Admir Suljic was taken into custody early Thursday after landing at Milan's Malpensa airport on a flight from Singapore, Italian police said.
Suljic is wanted by judicial authorities in the city of Cremona investigating a massive match-fixing case that has already brought the arrests of more than 50 people, with more than 150 under investigation.
Police said Suljic had been on the run since Dec. 2011 and was considered a "key element" in the Last Bet operation. Police added that he spent significant time in Singapore in close contact with the alleged fixing organization's chiefs.
Earlier Thursday, Interpol secretary general Ronald Noble said that Singaporean police had notified authorities in Italy that a suspected match-fixer was flying to Milan.
Speaking at a match-fixing conference in Malaysia, Noble said the man was wanted in Italy because he is allegedly working for Singaporean businessman Tan Seet Eng — known as Dan Tan — for whom Italian authorities have issued an arrest warrant.
Italian police said Suljic wanted to turn himself in to Italian authorities and that he faces charges of criminal association and sports fraud.
Noble earlier said that the arrest arrest would be "important because the world believes that law enforcement can't do anything to take down this criminal organization, the world believes that (Tan) and his associates can't be touched, that they are above the law."
In November, Serbian footballer Almir Gegic, who had also been wanted by Italian authorities, turned himself in at Malpensa.
Tan is accused of heading a crime syndicate that made millions of dollars betting on rigged Italian football matches. Italian officials have been unable to take Tan into custody as the arrest warrant cannot be served while he's in Asia.
"We will follow the rule of law," Noble said. "The hope is that (the suspect) will cooperate with law enforcement and tell us all he knows."
Acknowledging that Singapore has come under criticism for not detaining Tan, Noble said authorities there were restrained because they had to follow their own laws and could only take action when there was enough evidence.
However, Noble added that investigators worldwide have been slow to catch up with match-fixers because they were so far "not properly prepared to work together" and share enough information with their international counterparts.
FIFA head of security Ralf Mutschke said earlier at the Malaysian conference that he hopes Tan will be brought to face the courts with the help of Singaporean authorities.
Singapore's police have said they are reviewing information submitted by the Italian authorities in Tan's case before deciding what action to take.
The Singapore Police Force announced Thursday that four senior officers from the SPF and Corrupt Practices Investigation Bureau (CPIB) will be heading to the INTERPOL Headquarters in Lyon, France, to join the Global Anti-Match-fixing Taskforce.
Tan's former associate, Wilson Raj Perumal, has alleged to Italian investigators that Tan placed syndicate wagers on fixed games using Asia-based online betting sites via intermediaries in China.
A report by the European Union's police agency earlier this month said organized crime gangs, including ones in Asia, have fixed or tried to fix hundreds of football matches around the world.
Europol said its 18-month review found 380 suspicious matches in Europe and another 300 questionable games outside the continent, mainly in Africa, Asia and South and Central America.
Associated Press writer Eileen Ng in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, and AP Sports Writer Andrew Dampf in Rome contributed to this report.