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Stern Investigative - Sports Crime

Football betting scandal: The Syndicate

Racketeers have a lock on international soccer. They make several million a year by fixing matches. Who are the bosses running the betting ring mafia? How do they operate? For the first time, a member of a large cartel blows the whistle.

When Wilson Perumal was in detention awaiting trial he often had to think about Dan Tan, the big boss who would want to take revenge on him.

“If somebody betrays the group, the other members of the group may put your life in danger”, Perumal tells the detectives.

The mobster came clean, nonetheless. Someone from the syndicate had ratted him out. Perumal, too, was out for revenge. Now, he hoped that his candor would pay off in court.

This past week, in Rovaniemi, in northern Finland, Wilson Perumal was sentenced to two years in prison. He had been on the run for many years and had last lived in London-Wembley with a fake passport. His testimony helped reduce the sentence.

Ever more shocking revelations kept emerging

To the investigators, whose main goal is to break up crime rings, Perumal represents a highly valuable source. The man from Singapore is the first ringmember to offer a look into the structure and operation of one of the most infamous betting syndicates in Asia.

For soccer fans, ever more shocking revelations kept emerging over the past summer. Players of the Greece national team, the team manager in Turkey and referees in Hungary are all in detention awaiting trial for their alleged involvement in manipulating soccer matches. Illegal gamblers have seen their profits rise dramatically to 90 billion per year, which, according to estimates by the FIFA, matches the revenue of the legal betting market. The betting mafia threatens to control international soccer.

For a long time, German authorities thought that they had caught a big fish with the apprehension of Ante Sapina and his match fixing accomplices in Berlin. They were sentenced to up to 5 1/2 years. It was only this past week, that the German Soccer Association (DFB) banned the former second division player Rene Schnitzler for 2 1/2 years because he accepted 100,000 euros from a gambling ‘godfather’. The sentences are meant to act as a deterrent. Yet, meanwhile, German investigators assume that the really huge deals are being conducted somewhere else entirely. “You only have to take a look where the high sums are being betted: always in Asia”, says one agent who has been on the mobsters’ trails for years.

Alarmed by the Perumal case

Even leading league officials recognize the threat to their sport emanating from bet rigging. UEFA General Secretary Gianni Infantino alludes to a “cancer” while FIFA president Sepp Blatter refers to “hostage taking by the betting mafia” from which soccer needs to free itself. Yet beyond such statements, the different soccer associations did not accomplish much. Last year, UEFA itself was infiltrated by a member of a match-fixing syndicate.

After he was exposed in a stern magazine article (#38/2010), the UEFA was forced to remove their highest-ranking anti-fraud agent from office. FIFA has its hands full and grapples with its own internal corruption scandals. Yet, the Perumal case has jolted them.

During questioning and in written testimony, the 45 year old described, among other things, how his boss Dan Tan and his people manipulated Finland’s major league thereby controlling entire clubs. Since 2008, the Singapore based Dan Tan Cartell has reaped millions in profits on four continents. As a consequence, it destroys soccer’s credibility exactly where it is most dear to its fans: international matches.

The Dan Tan Cartell

Wilson Perumal had been rigging matches for years, including time and again international games. Within the Dan Tan Cartell he was one of five ringleaders, so-called shareholders, who were responsible for one area of operations each. The others were from Croatia, Bulgaria, Slovenia and Hungary. They placed their bets mostly in China.

They split every profit and shared every loss. Losses occurred when bribes had been paid, but matches did not play to a pre-determined result. Such losses could be steep. Perumal, for instance, paid each player at times more than 10,000 Euro.

Ringleaders also divvied up work. “My job is to arrange future matches and tournaments and develop new ideas in relation to match-fixing”, Perumal testified during questioning. “It is my job also to keep contact with football associations and other important persons, such as those who have the FIFA status.” Perumal refers to those agents who possess a license issued by the world federation, which allows them to organize international matches.

The whole event was a charade

Perumal described how the market operates for people like him. “Most Football Associations are broke. When you go up to them and provide them with an opponent who is prepared to incur all expenses to play a friendly they welcome you with open arms. They don’t realize what is hidden beneath. All they want is a sparing match.”

Last September, Bahrain credulously played Togo. It was only later that Bahrain’s national team learned that their opponents were not regular players on Togo’s team but simply rather good players from Togo. The whole event was a charade. The referee was FIFA appointed Ibrahim Chaibou from Niger, who, according to Wilson Perumal, was in his pocket.

On June 1, 2011, the same referee officiated a match between two illustrious teams. Nigeria hosted Argentina’s national team before an audience of 30,000. The match between two world championship contenders and great soccer nations met with intense interest and betting agencies accepted huge wagers, which were especially high in Asia.

Huge profits to the gamblers

Referee Chaibou diligently fulfilled his side of the deal. He called a contentious penalty kick already in the first half, allowed extensive overtime and awarded a second penalty kick in the 98th minute.

For this match a lot of bets placed in Asia were for “over 4.5 goals”. In order for a bet to win the teams need to score at least five goals. Chaibou’s call for a penalty kick way beyond the end of regular play time enabled the fifth goal in the game and huge profits to the gamblers. Bets of this sort can increase their initial stakes tenfold.

FIFA had a chance to prevent Chaibou from refereeing the match. Earlier this year, a FIFA employee had gone to Finland to question Perumal and had gained access to the files of the Prosecutor’s Office.

Already in 2010, Chaibou’s calls for penalty kicks in two international matches resulted in a total of five goals. High bets were placed on the exact score. The Federation must have known that this referee was corrupt.

A scandal unfolds

However, since FIFA allowed him to referee in Nigeria, the betting mafia was able to commit fraud and cash in there, too. Only now, after Chaibou has gone into hiding, is FIFA determined to go after him. Investigation findings are now being taken seriously. In a long, confidential email to General Secretary Jérôme Valcke and his three directors, a FIFA official has sounded the alarm.

The report describes a spreading scandal. Investigations of allegedly fixed games are ongoing in twelve countries in South America, eight in the Middle East and nine states in Africa. Two young soccer players in South Korea committed suicide “because of the pressure they had come under during the investigations”. The paper also talks about money laundering.

“Colombian cartels, too, are involved.” An agency, which organizes international matches was financed from Russia. The report looked into the influence of betting syndicates on matches all over the world in the past five years.

Dan Tan's residence in Singapore

Perumal is not the only ringleader of Dan Tan’s syndicate who is in prison. In Croatia and Hungary, two of his colleagues have already been arrested. Both of them decided to remain silent and are thus still on the top boss’s payroll, claims Perumal.

The man, who is believed to be in his forties, is a citizen of Singapore and resides in one of the better neighborhoods in the city state. His spacious apartment is on the second floor of a fenced-in, yellow brick building and monitored by security cameras. A guard checks visitors at the gate. In the courtyard, a dolphin sculpture spews water into a large pool. The boss is not at home this past Thursday, when stern magazine rings the bell to his apartment and is briefly admitted. A grand piano protected by a dust cover stands in a flagstone-tiled living room. The sofa is snow-white. Shoe boxes line the walls in the lobby.

A bad suspicion

Dan Tan is not available on the following day, either. Instead, Dany, whose real name is Ray Prakash Rajoo agrees to talk to stern magazine in a café in Singapore. He claims that Dan Tan has 50 million dollars in the bank, but that he is no longer in the business. It does not sound convincing. Dan Tan has set up a rank of so-called runners who are one level below his five ringleaders. They occupy the lowest rung of the hierarchy. Their job is to hand over money to corrupt players and referees.

Dany is alleged to have been one of them. Wilson Perumal mentioned him in a letter he had written to the Singapore based “The New Paper”. He is said to have carried huge sums for the syndicate. The Dan Tan Cartell deployed such money couriers in Asia and Europe – and, as has now been reported, in Central and North America, where the Gold Cup has come under strong suspicion.

In June, the United States hosted the tournament, which is the equivalent of the European championship. Additionally, the match last October between El Salvador and Costa Rica has attracted great interest. It is one of the games in the region that Perumal had organized. Among US officials there is talk about bribed players, but the two national soccer federations who got involved with Perumal assert their innocence. After all, an official FIFA agent had cosigned the contract, says the president of El Salvador’s soccer association Carlos Méndez Florez.

Rasamanickam does not answer his phone

According to findings by stern magazine, that agent is Subramaniam Rasamanickam. He is a former teacher who said he had quit his job “out of love for soccer”. He became a trainer-instructor and later Federation official. He once even attended a seminar organized by the German Soccer Federation in Hennef, Germany.

Rasamanickam was Facebook friends with Wilson Perumal, on whose cell phone investigators found the FIFA agent’s phone number. Rasamanickam does not currently answer his phone.

Soccer officials in El Salvador say that FIFA instructed them to not comment further on this delicate case. The contract with the signature of Perumal, a guy who fixes matches, and the signature of one of their own agents on it, can not please FIFA, yet it cannot come as a surprise to them either, since the report for the general secretary also deals with the actions of the FIFA licensed player agents. As stated in the report, Rasamanickam and at least two additional colleagues are said to be accomplices of Dan Tan’s betting syndicate.

By Dirk Liedtke, Wigbert Löer, Andreas Mönnich, Nina Plonka, Oliver Schröm and Janis Vougioukas

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