From Finland to Thailand via Turkey — fake teams, ‘ghost games’, multiple arrests and a rash of penalties
Sharjah, March 26, 2011: Kuwait 1-1 Jordan
Fifa is investigating a suspected planned fix at the friendly match that was part of a four-team tournament.
North Korea and Iraq were invited to join Kuwait and Jordan in the competition.
There were no television contracts, sponsorship agreements or tickets on sale on the day. Even the venue of the game was switched at short notice, from the Sharjah Stadium to the Al Shaab Stadium.
Both goals in the match were penalties, awarded in the first 37 minutes. The match officials are understood to have been recruited from African associations. Fifa sent investigators to Sharjah, and their inquiries with the UAE Football Association in the build-up are thought to have played a part in averting any attempt to influence the game. The UAE FA became concerned about the manner in which the officials had been recruited and sent a team of referees’ assessors to the stadium.
Antalya, February 9, 2011: Bolivia 1-2 Latvia, Bulgaria 2-2 Estona
Fifa has opened an investigation into “a possible match-fixing situation” in the four-team tournament staged in the Turkish resort in February.
The six match officials involved, three from Hungary and three from Bosnia, face disciplinary action from Fifa and have been banned by their respective national associations.
The Daily Telegraph understands that they have refused to co-operate with Fifa’s investigation.
The two games — Bolivia v Latvia and Bulgaria v Estonia — were played back-to-back in the Mardan Stadium on Feb 9 in front of a handful of spectators. All seven goals in the two games came from penalties. When one of them was missed, it was ordered to be retaken, and scored.
Kevin Pullein, the chief sports statistician at the Racing Post, has calculated the probability of seven consecutive penalties in two Premier League games at 1,500,000-to-one.
Sources with knowledge of the investigation and in the gambling community have told The Daily Telegraph that gambling-monitoring systems, including Fifa’s early-warning system which tracks legitimate markets, registered a spike in betting volume prior to each penalty.
Investigators believe that markets on the time of goals, the likelihood of penalties, handicap markets and “Asian totals”, a market in which at least three goals have to be scored in a match, were exploited.
Unbeknown to those staging the games, Fifa and Uefa had been alerted to suspicions over the matches and investigators were monitoring the games.
The games were organised by an agency called Footy Media International which used an address in central London on its literature, and signed off its correspondence under the names of executives with European names. Investigators have now established that it was in fact a front company run by a Singapore-based businessman, Anthony Santia Raj.
The federations were offered around €30,000 as a match fee, roughly in line with a standard match fee for federations of their size, with Footy Media International agreeing to pick up all air fares, hotel bills and travelling expenses. Competing teams raised concerns about the organisers of the tournament with Uefa and Fifa after match fees were paid in cash, a highly unusual practice. Footy Media International also gave no indication how it intended to make back its expenses, thought to exceed $300,000 (€205,000).
Agencies usually make their money from a share of broadcast contracts, sponsorship and marketing and ticket revenue. None of these were in place for the Antalya games.
When questioned, Santia Raj said that the tournament was a loss-leader for his company, which wanted to get into the business and was willing to lose a little money to establish itself.
The most significant alarm bell concerned the identity of the match officials, who would usually be provided by the host association for games played on neutral territory. In correspondence seen by The Daily Telegraph, Footy Media International told the associations: “Our company has an ongoing referees’ exchange program with several countries?...?daily allowances and remuneration for the referees will be fully taken care of by Footy Media International.”
As the game approached, however, the identity of the officials remained a mystery, and even the day before the game Santia Raj was unable to confirm who would be in charge.
Having said at various stages in the build-up that the officials would be Croatian or Bulgarian, the six officials who arrived the day before the match were in fact Hungarian and Bosnian. Sources present in Antalya say they missed the pre-match meeting on the eve of the game claiming to be tired from travelling, and only when challenged the next day did they reveal who they were.
The Hungarians wrote their names on the back of the official team-sheet, and did not give nationalities while one of the Bosnians, acting as fourth official for the first game, wrote that he was Croatian.
Bahrain, September 7 2010, Bahrain 3-0 Togo
The “fake” friendly between Bahrain and Togo was one of the more bizarre episodes in the match-fixing scandal.
Home team Bahrain won the friendly 3-0, but Togo then stated it had never sent its national team to play the game in the Gulf state.
The Daily Telegraph disclosed that Wilson Raj Perumal was responsible for setting up the game, and had fled to London after it was played.
During the match, the “Togo” team tired quickly and struggled to complete the full 90 minutes. Bahrain coach Josef Hickersberger said: “They were not fit enough to play 90 minutes; the match was very boring.”
The Bahrain team scored eight times during the game but five goals were disallowed after offside decisions which were described in local press reports as “questionable”.
The Togolese football authorities launched an inquiry and a former coach of Togo’s national football team, Tchanile Bana, was suspended for three years by Fifa. Bana had been suspended for two years for hosting a fake match the previous July.
Although Fifa did not investigate the fake friendly, because it did not receive a complaint, details about the planning of the match have emerged.
In August 2010, the Bahrain Football Association said it received a letter signed with the name of Kodzo Samlan, a Togo Football Federation official, confirming the September 7 game. “Everything was done through official channels, and we had no reason to suspect any problem,” said a BFA spokesman. The touring party travelled together from Accra, in Ghana, to Bahrain via Dubai.
One football reporter said he was astonished by the laid-back approach of the squad. He explained: “There weren’t any team lists provided by either team – I had to photocopy them all myself and hand them round. On the Togo side, there was one guy who just wrote down the names. Nobody had heard of any of them. Everyone assumed it was a reserve squad. Every five minutes they were diving and falling, saying they were injured.”
Kuala Lumpur, December 28, 2009: Malaysia 3-0 Zimbabwe
Wilson Raj Perumal was named in 2010 by a Zimbabwean Football Authority (Zifa) investigation as having paid players and helped arrange highly suspicious matches on an Asian tour in December 2009.
Zimbabwe lost all three games on the tour of Thailand and Malaysia. Perumal was said to have sat on the team’s bench during matches next to the coach, even offering instructions to players.
Zifa found that the match against Malaysia, which Zimbabwe lost 3-0, involved a club team being passed off as the Zimbabwean national side. The team also played Syria and Thailand during the tour.
In the statements to a Zifa board of inquiry, players and officials said they were paid between $500 (€350) and $1,500 (€1,000) to throw matches on the tour. Players said they received instructions at half-time to ensure the correct results were achieved for the types of wagers that had been staked.
According to affidavits by players and officials, Perumal was angered by the scoreline being 3-0 instead of 1-0 which resulted in him losing “millions” of dollars. The Zimbabwe team lost 6-0 to Syria and 3-0 to Thailand.
The chief executive of Zifa, Henrietta Rushwaya was subsequently found guilty of match-fixing in a disciplinary tribunal and fired. It emerged that she had also allowed another Zimbabwean club team, passed off as the national side, to travel to Malaysia in 2009.
The Zimbabwe players on the tour were later identified as members of the premier league team Monomotapa United. They had apparently been lent the national kit for the tournament.
Eleven players are facing lifetime bans from football and criminal convictions after Finland’s National Bureau of Investigation cracked an alleged match-fixing ring organised by Wilson Raj Perumal.
The Finnish police have been building their case since arresting Perumal on Feb 25 at Vantaa airport in Helsinki.
The alleged fixer was travelling on a false passport and is wanted in his home country of Singapore for absconding from an appeal hearing. Perumal, who has 13 previous convictions, had been sentenced to five years in prison after running over a police officer.
The police used evidence given by Raj to arrest the 11 players in a case that has shocked Finnish football. Dominic and Donewell Yobe, of Zambia, pleaded guilty last week to charges of bribery. Dominic Yobe had moved to HJK Helsinki in the off season and was arrested at Vantaa airport in March when returning from a training camp in Mallorca.
The brothers admitted taking €50,000 from Perumal to fix a game while playing for FC Oulu last season but said they then broke the agreement for one brother to concede a penalty and the other to get a red card. “They took the money, when some idiot offered it to them,” said their lawyer, Pasi Hagman. The prosectution are seeking an eight-month sentence.
Perumal and the nine RoPs players he is alleged to have used to fix games (seven Zambian and two Georgian) are also awaiting trial in Rovaniemi in Lapland. “We suspect the players have taken bribes offered by Wilson Raj,” said Jukka Lakkala, the detective investigating the case.
“We don’t know exactly how many games have been affected but we suspect this kind of activity has been going on for a long time.” The players have had their passports seized and are staying in a safe house.
The RoPs CEO, Antii Hietakangas, said this week: “All those players’ contracts have been cancelled. We have done our best to help the police and await the trial.”
A third club, Tampere, have been expelled from the league for taking a payment of €300,000 from a company owned by Perumal. The Singaporean had sought control over transfers and team selection.
FC Oulu have also been stripped of their licence for breaking financial regulations. RoPs were granted their licence only after terminating the contracts of all nine players. The start of the season was postponed – it will kick off today.
The trial which has exposed the most extensive match-fixing conspiracy in the history of football resumed in Bochum yesterday. Convicted match-fixer Ante Sapina is one of seven fixers accused of fixing as many as 300 games, according to prosecutors.
The Croatian, who was jailed for bribing German referee Robert Hoyzer to fix games in 2005, has been bailed after making a deal with the German police.
The gang have already confessed to fixing 46 games in nine countries, including a World Cup qualifier between Liechtenstein and Finland and an under-21 game between Switzerland and Georgia. Domestic games in Austria, Croatia, Germany, Hungary, Slovenia, Switzerland and Turkey were all fixed.
A Champions League game between Debrecen and Fiorentina, and four Europa League matches have also been implicated.
Yesterday Debrecen goalkeeper Vukasin Poleksic lost an appeal against a two-year ban related to the fixing plot imposed for failing to report an approach from match-fixers. Debrecen conceded four first-half goals in a 4-3 defeat in the group-stage game.
Sapinaijo Cvrtak (both Croatian), Ivan Pavic (Croatian-German), Deniz Celik, Ramazan Kose (both Turkish) and Dragan Mihelic (Slovenian), who were arrested last year, are accused of paying players and referees to influence games, making a £2m (€2.25m) profit from their crimes.