An ugly $1 trillion business
SA is hosting the 29th Africa Cup of Nations against the backdrop of the Fifa report on Bafana Bafana’s pre-2010 World Cup match-fixing scandal. S’busiso Mseleku takes a deep look at the global match-fixing scourge.
The 29th Africa Cup of Nations kicked off yesterday with the cloud of match-fixing still hanging over South African football.
This follows a Fifa report handed to the SA Football Association (Safa) on December 14 that confirmed four Bafana Bafana friendly matches prior to the 2010 World Cup were fixed.
Safa president Kirsten Nematandani and four Safa staff members mentioned in the report – Dennis Mumble, Lindile Kika, Barney Kujane and Adeel Carelse – were summarily put on “special leave” by the emergency committee, a decision that was later overturned by Safa’s national executive committee.
This is, however, not a uniquely South African problem as more than 50 countries among the 206 Fifa members have been touched by the two-year Fifa investigation into match-fixing.
Other African countries fingered are Nigeria, Zimbabwe, Togo and Zambia.
This week, Fifa security director Ralf Mutschke told journalists in Zurich “soccer has a long way to go to defeat match-fixing by organised crime gangs”.
He said: “The problem could get worse because 100 national leagues are vulnerable to corruption when crime syndicates can so easily bet on matches online.
“Fifa is not going to eradicate match-fixing or corruption,” said Mutschke defeatedly.
However, he assured those present that Fifa had not dropped some of the investigations started by his predecessor, Chris Eaton.
“We are still interested in cleaning up (old cases), but it is difficult.”
South Africa was caught in the web of worldwide match-fixing fed by sports betting, an industry Interpol says has ballooned to being worth $1 trillion (R8.9 trillion).
Eaton said 70% of this money is gambled on soccer, which has turned local bookies into global merchants, with Asian bookmakers alone seeing a $2 billion weekly turnover.
A Singaporean, Wilson Raj Perumal, has been fingered by Fifa as the mastermind behind South Africa’s fixed matches.
Eaton, who left Fifa last year after two years of investigating worldwide match-fixing, describes Perumal – who has served time in Finland for match-fixing and is currently under house arrest in Budapest – as “the world’s most prolific criminal fixer of soccer matches and an elusive figure”.
He is accused of rigging hundreds of games across five continents, in the process generating hundreds of millions of dollars in fraudulent gambling winnings for Asian and European syndicates.
According to the report on South Africa, which was compiled by Eaton and Terry Steans, a representative from Perumal’s company, Football4U – calling himself “Mohammad” (whom investigators identified as Jason Jo Lourdes) – arrived at Safa’s offices four weeks before the start of the 2010 World Cup.
The man had a letter from Football4U signed by Perumal and addressed to Safa president Kirsten Nematandani with the subject matter “Referees exchange programme”.
The letter alluded to a meeting between Perumal and Nematandani “on the above matter in Johannesburg”.
This was to lead to the four matches being fixed. In the report, Steans and Eaton say: “There was a political split inside the Safa administration at the time and this had caused the organisation to become somewhat dysfunctional.
“This appears to have provided a Singaporean criminal syndicate with a ready opportunity to exploit Safa. This is a well-known tactic of this particular criminal organisation.”
Eaton’s investigations proved the syndicate has a footprint in more than 50 countries.
Mutschke this week said more than 100 leagues in the world were vulnerable to corruption.
In Finland, Perumal was sold out by one of his own, who is said to have walked into a police station and told them one of the biggest match-fixers was in their country.
The police contacted Eaton, who had alerted Interpol and several national police departments to his investigation.
A description given to the Fifa security man fitted Perumal’s and Eaton was on the next flight from Zurich to Finland.
An arrest was made followed by a court case that proved several Finnish league matches had been manipulated.
Perumal and several people were jailed as a result.
Fifa’s vigilance on this led to several arrests, sentencings and even life bans for officials and players in several countries.
Germany, Italy, France, Bulgaria, Brazil, Argentina, South Korea, Japan, Spain and Turkey have also had their fair share of match-fixing incidents.
This week, Mutschke and Fifa general secretary Jerome Valcke admitted that their organisation could never defeat this cancer without the help of Interpol and national police departments.
“This has become a lucrative business and even drug lords are now turning to match-fixing and betting as they find it to be a safer business than drug trafficking and prostitution.”
Valcke yesterday appealed to countries to have laws against illegal gambling.
“At the moment, there are only 16 European countries that have incorporated this into their laws. We need more.”
With Perumal – who reportedly ran a $10 million debt on gambling at one stage – said to still be in contact with members of his syndicate, despite being under house arrest, it doesn’t seem we are about to see an end to match-fixing soon.
» Additional sources: ESPN The Magazine and Fifa.com