Rio de Janeiro: Police in Brazil have taken down a group accused of defrauding state-run lotteries of some $16 million in a scheme allegedly involving retired footballer Edilson, a member of the squad that won the 2002 World Cup.
Federal Police on Thursday detained 13 people and carried out searches at 24 locations in five of Brazil's 26 states, reports Efe.
Investigators say the group forged copies of winning lottery tickets that had not been redeemed and was able to claim the money with the connivance of branch managers at Caixa Economica Federal, the state-run savings bank with a monopoly over lotteries in Brazil.
The fraudulent operation is said to have extended to cities in the Sao Paulo, Goias, Bahia, Sergipe and Parana states as well as Brasilia.
The Caixa managers who joined the scheme were recruited by some large account-holders, police said, including one who is famous as a former member of the national football team.
Though police did not name him, lawyers representing Edilson da Silva Ferreira, 44, acknowledged that he is being investigated, but they denied any connections between the former player and the criminal group.
Defense attorney Thiago Phileto said federal agents searched Edilson's home in Salvador and seized the hard drive from his computer.
"We are confident that, once the investigations advance, his name will be withdrawn (from the list of suspects)," the attorney said, adding that Edilson only came to authorities' attention because his name was mentioned in passing by one of the other suspects.
Police said the ring took advantage of the fact that many people never check the lottery results or lose their tickets, leaving hefty prizes unclaimed.
Last year alone, lottery winners left 270.5 million reais ($71.2 million) uncollected.