The strange case of the taxman with the golden gambling streak

With the Latvian national soccer team's recent victory against Andorra regarded as a notable achievement, it would be fair to say the national football league (Virsliga) does not stand serious comparison with Serie A in Italy or Germany's Bundesliga.

But according to a report by LTV's De Facto investigative team October 15, despite - or perhaps because of - Latvian football's obscure status, it can still be a place where large amounts of money can be won or lost.

Vladimirs Vinokurovs is an employee of the Latgale regional office of the State Revenue Service (VID), working in the customs department in the east of the country. He also seems to have a golden touch when it comes to gambling, with his tax declaration showing that in 2014 he won 157,000 euros, in 2015 he netted 187,000 euros and in 2016 he raked in an amazing 238,000 euros in winnings.

It is believed the winnings came from online sports betting via Latvian site Optibet and Asian gambling site Sbobet.

According to VID financial police spokesman Edijs Ceipe, this behaviour was suspicious and a criminal investigation was launched into whether Vinokurovs was really living off his 10,000 euro per year customs duty wage and is just happening to enjoy spectacularly good luck in his hobby.

A court case saw him found guilty and sentenced to 200 hours of community service. He has appealed and the case is still with the courts. He remains an employee of the tax authority.

De Facto sources suggested Vinokurovs had links to the local soccer scene with both his father and brother acting as team coaches. He had himself officiated in games too.

A 2015 friendly game between Daugavpils and Lithuania's Stumbras was of particular significance, De Facto said.

Janis Mezeckis, general secretary of the Latvian Football Association insists that strict rules are in place saying that match and club officials and their relatives are forbidden from betting on the results of games.

The referee of the Daugavpils-Stumbras game, Vyaceslavs Kohans, is no longer on on the association's approved list, said Mezeckis.

It is far from the first time a Daugavpils soccer club has been embroiled in match-fixing allegations.

In 2009 FK Dinaburg was expelled from the top Latvian league and both the president and trainer were banned for life on suspicion of betting and match-fixing - though they have continued to be associated with other clubs.

Then in 2014 FC Daugavpils leading soccer club was at the center of new match fixing allegations by the UEFA governing body in an ongoing case police described as involving "various manipulations in the course of the team's international and domestic league matches. Beyond that, it is about massive scale tax-evasion, money plundering and laundering."

However, having Daugavpils identified internationally as a site of match fixing does not seem to have stopped Vinokurovs' activities.

De Facto's attempts to contact Vinokurovs proved fruitless as he was resportedly off work on sick leave.

Nevertheless, something to cheer him up as he awaits the result of his appeal is the fact that until next year at least, gambling winnings in Latvia remain tax free.

In a separate report, De Facto also reported that around 20 Latvian soccer players are on a so-called ''gray list'' for the frequency with which they seem to feature in matches that have ramifications on Asian betting markets.

 

 

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