Former Chelsea striker Diego Costa has been named as the footballer at the centre of an alleged betting scandal being probed by police.
The 32-year-old striker, currently playing for Brazilian side Atletico Mineiro, has been identified by national press in his homeland as the one of the people being investigated by detectives in the state of Sergipe where he was born.
Police have yet to confirm the identities of those they believe are involved in the alleged wrongdoing.
But they have said a footballer they did not name officially is one of the suspects under investigation.
Detectives went public with their operation on Thursday, saying they were probing the practice of alleged crimes including money laundering and foreign exchange fraud involving online betting site Esportenet.
Sergipe State Police said in a statement: “On Wednesday morning Sergipe State Police launched the second phase of an operation codenamed Distraction with the aim of obtaining evidence for an investigation into the alleged practices of exploitation of gambling, money laundering, foreign currency exchange and criminal association involving the Esportenet betting site, its owners, financial operators and financier.
“In the first phase of the operation, which began on March 3 this year, documents and electronic equipment were seized that allowed the investigation to be deepened and the amount of R$13,129,217.00 (£1.77 million) in cash was seized.
“Based on the evidence collected, it was possible to identify other betting platforms used by the group and individual companies and legal entities for alleged money laundering and foreign exchange fraud.
“The participation of money changers that help the criminal organisation to allegedly commit foreign exchange fraud was verified, as well as the participation of a football player who is allegedly the financier of the criminal scheme.
Want to be on the ball with all of the latest football news?
Well then sign up for the brilliant Daily Star football email newsletter!
From the latest transfer news to the agenda-setting stories, get it all in your email inbox – don’t miss a thing.
How do you sign up?
It only takes a matter of seconds.
Simply type your email address into the box at the top of this article and hit ‘subscribe’.
And that’s it, job done. You’ll receive an email with all of the top news stories every single morning.
You can find out more information on our email newsletter on this link here.
“At this stage, the investigation is focused on the foreign exchange fraud, with specific focus on the money changers and the betting site’s financier.
“Seven search and seizure warrants are being executed, two in Itabaiana in Sergipe, one in Lagarto in Sergipe, two in Simao Dias in Sergipe, one in Salvador in the state of Bahia and one in Sao Paulo.
“The warrants were issued by a judge sitting at Itabaaina’s Sixth Federal Court.
“Warrants for the seizure of property belonging to those involved in the criminal scheme are also being executed.”
Unconfirmed local reports said Spanish international Diego Costa’s home was among the properties that had been searched.
There has been no official comment from the footballer on any of his social media sites.
But Atletico Mineiro appeared to confirm the ex-Stamford Bridge striker was the footballer at the centre of the police probe by saying they would support him if he asked for help in a statement.
The statement, titled ‘Diego Costa Official Statement’ and posted on the official club website, said: “The reports do not concern the club.
“The allegations that have been put in the public domain weren’t previously known to the public or the club because they formed part of an investigation and they relate to a period which was prior to the athlete’s arrival here.
“However Atletico Mineiro is trying to find out more and if the athlete requires it, we will offer him all the support that might be necessary.”
Diego Costa, full name Diego da Silva Costa, transferred to Chelsea from Atletico Madrid in 2014 in a deal worth £32 million.
He won three trophies including two Premier League titles during his time at Stamford Bridge.
He returned to Atletico Madrid in 2018 following a rift with then-manager Antonio Conte.
Costa, a dual citizen of Brazil and Spain, joined Atletico Mineiro on August 14 this year, signing a deal until December 2022.
The Belo Horizonte-based side competes in Brazil’s top-tier Serie A league.
Costa, known for his fiery temper on the pitch, played twice for Brazil and has scored 10 goals in his 24 appearances for Spain.