Lucas Paqueta’s FA betting probe was sparked by a flurry of bets on a tiny Brazilian paradise island… the yellow card storm triggered 6,000 miles away is expected to drag on for several months after ending his prospective Man City move

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With no cars allowed, tree-lined beaches and year-round temperatures of 30 degrees the tiny Paqueta Island must feel like paradise, but for the last few months this tranquil retreat from Rio de Janiero has been the centre of a brewing storm.

A flurry of bets placed on the 0.5mile square island’s most famous resident, Lucas Paqueta, to be booked in a Premier League game 6,000 miles away in March this year triggered a global investigation that has been quietly gathering pace for five months, exploding into life last Friday when it caused the collapse of the Brazilian international’s £80million move to Manchester City.

Paqueta’s real name is Lucas Tolentino Coelho de Lima but it is common in Brazil for people to adopt the surname of the region they are from, hence Paqueta from Paqueta Island and ironically, Mail Sport’s revelation of the FA’s betting inquiry coincided with the island’s biggest event of the year, the Festa de Sao Roque. It is a religious festival involving live music, fireworks and a procession through the ordinarily quiet streets. Not all of the island’s 3,000 residents will have been in the mood to celebrate however, as some of them appear to have placed its favourite son in the eye of a storm, potentially costing him millions of pounds.

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The probe began when several bookmakers in Brazil received an unusual number of bets on Paqueta to be booked during West Ham’s Premier League game against Aston Villa on 12 March, triggering an alert from their integrity monitoring systems. Most of the suspicious bets were traced to Paqueta Island, with the concern of integrity officials heightened by the fact that much of the money was gambled using new accounts.

In addition many of the punters had bet the maximum stake permitted on a yellow card market, which most operators cap at around £200, with up to £1,000 allowed for regular gamblers with a losing habit. Any yellow-card bet from a new account automatically triggers one of the many colour-coded warnings used by companies to monitor suspected foul play.

Bets placed on Lucas Paqueta to be booked against Aston Villa were made on Paqueta island

Bets placed on Lucas Paqueta to be booked against Aston Villa were made on Paqueta island 

Paqueta was booked for a foul on Aston Villa's John McGinn with 14 minutes left of the match

Paqueta was booked for a foul on Aston Villa’s John McGinn with 14 minutes left of the match

To complete an extraordinary series of events West Ham’s shirt sponsor Betway were the first bookmaker to raise concerns as Mail Sport revealed on Saturday, reporting the matter to the International Betting Integrity Association (IBIA), who passed it on to FIFA and the FA.

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Mail Sport has subsequently learned that other bookmakers also took bets on Paqueta to be carded including at least one European operator and several local Brazilian operators. Some concerns about the Paqueta yellow card market were even flagged before kick-off at the London Stadium due to a major fall in the price, which collapsed to 8/11 from around 5/1 earlier in the week, despite the fact that he had only been booked five times previously in the league at that stage of the season.

Paqueta was booked with 20 minutes left of West Ham’s 1-1 draw for a late challenge on John McGinn, the only card shown by referee Chris Kavanagh all afternoon. The 25-year-old is understood to be relaxed ahead of his interview with the FA and confident of being cleared of any wrongdoing, which he strongly denies.

Paqueta went on to receive two more yellow cards during the rest of last season and has been booked in both of West Ham’s Premier League games at the start of this campaign. Whilst not an aggressive player the former AC Milan and Lyon midfield player privately concedes he does not have the best tackling technique, an issue he feels is exacerbated by being asked to track back to comply with David Moyes’ game-plan.

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While sports integrity bodies have been examining the case for several months West Ham and Paqueta were not informed by the FA until last Wednesday. West Ham passed on the information to Manchester City shortly afterwards, with the Premier League champions opting to withdraw from transfer negotiations despite basically agreeing an £80m fee.

The FA’s investigation is also in its infancy and is expected to drag on for several months. In the most recent case of this type, multiple investigations involving the FA, the Gambling Commission and the National Crime Agency into suspicious betting patterns surrounding a yellow card Granit Xhaka received in a Premier League game between Arsenal and Leeds in December 2021, lasted 18 months.

Paqueta is confident of being cleared of any wrongdoing, which he strongly denies

Paqueta is confident of being cleared of any wrongdoing, which he strongly denies

Ex-Arsenal star Granit Xhaka was cleared of any involvement in a possible betting scam in May

Ex-Arsenal star Granit Xhaka was cleared of any involvement in a possible betting scam in May

Xhaka was never accused of any wrongdoing, but the FA’s initial inquiry into a £52,000 bet for the Swiss international to be booked placed on betting exchange Betfair was subsequently escalated to a criminal investigation before being dropped in May this year. The NCA investigation looked into allegations that Xhaka’s family had been threatened, but no charges were ever issued.

To exacerbate what is expected to be a difficult investigation in this case, FA integrity officials are understood to be worried about obtaining all the information they require from Brazil, as its betting market is unregulated. Whilst global operators such as Betway are legally obliged to co-operate with their inquiries, there is concern that any bets placed with local companies could be impossible to trace.

Any FA investigators planning to travel to Paqueta to conduct interviews should also prepare themselves for an epic journey. The only way to access the island is a one-hour ferry from Rio and once on land the only way of getting around is hiring a bike or taking a ride in a horse-drawn cart.

Given the pace of most FA investigations such modes of transport may feel rather appropriate.

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