Soccer match-fixing by criminal gangs can only be prevented by police agencies using joint intelligence gathering similar to that in the fight against global terrorism after the Sept. 11 attacks, FIFA’s head of security said.
With cross-border movement of capital and the global nature of the sport’s teams and officials, investigators face a tough task, said Chris Eaton, a former counter-terrorism specialist at Interpol now employed by soccer’s governing body.
“We’d still be investigating 9/11 had we investigated it nationally,” he told a media briefing at FIFA’s headquarters in Zurich today. “You have national police operating within national confines but these are international activities which are very complex.”
Matches have been found to have been influenced by gangs trying to manipulate results, leading to court cases, prison sentences and even suspension of national leagues. In August, Italian club Atalanta got a six-point deduction and two of its players were suspended for alleged match-fixing. Turkey’s Fenerbahce was barred from playing in Europe’s elite Champions League this season following a police investigation.
The illegal gambling market worldwide is estimated at $90 billion, according to the World Lottery Association, a lobbying group for state-backed lotteries. Interpol estimates the value of legal and illegal gambling at $500 billion, Eaton said, adding match-fixers generate as much as $15 million a year manipulating results.
In the past year, fixing scams often connected to organized crime networks spanning Europe and South East Asia have also been uncovered in countries including Finland and Germany. In Italy, two former members of its national team are under investigation for fixes allegedly manipulated by Mafia-style groups. Eaton said he’s heard of anecdotal evidence where “some players have been killed” for failure to cooperate with fixers.
FIFA itself is undergoing reform after several of its officials faced corruptions inquiries. That’s led to some criticism that Eaton’s statements about match-fixing are to deflect attention from graft within the governing body.
“If I thought I was being used as a fig leaf for FIFA I wouldn’t be here today,” said former police chief Eaton, who has four decades in law enforcement. He said he realized match fixing was to be his biggest challenge after being hired by FIFA to look into security issues related to the 2010 World Cup.
FIFA today released seized documents related to an exhibition hosted in Antalya, Turkey, last year that led to life bans for seven officials after a probe into two games where all the goals were scored from penalties. Estonia and Bulgaria tied 2-2, while Latvia beat Bolivia 2-1.
A contract for the tournament to one of the teams, drawn up by a company named as Footy Media International, demanded that “there will be no television agreement” and details of the arrangement “shall not be released to the public or media by any of the two parties to maintain confidentiality.”
Eaton said Footy Media was a fictitious company and Blapp Johnsen, listed as its CEO, was actually Anthony Santia Raj, an associate of Singapore-national Wilson Perumal who was jailed for two years in Finland last year for fixing matches there. Each team was offered 20,000 euros ($25,600) for flights, 5-star hotel accommodation for 30 people and a 20,000 euros appearance fee for each game.
“That match was only put on for the purpose of gambling, and it wasn’t to be seen by spectators or viewers,” Eaton said.
A separate file released by FIFA shows e-mail exchanges between Perumal and an official that Eaton says is the head of national soccer federation.
“These games are exhibition matches and please don’t make my life difficult by saying you want to win,” Perumal is quoted as saying. In a separate e-mail he offers a “reward” of $100,000 if the official’s team can guarantee “two goals in each half and you can get one after conceding the fourth goal.”
In a handwritten note from jail, also released by FIFA, Perumal asks an unnamed reporter whether the governing body is fit to investigate fixing.
“Corruption is a disease without care,” Perumal said. “Look at FIFA. If the parent body is corrupt how is it going to eradicate corruption in football.”
An anonymous tips hotline and website for players, officials and referees is being established next month by FIFA. Witnesses will be given protection if they come forward, Eaton said.