He speaks slowly and chooses his words carefully, like a diplomat. Peter Limacher, Europe’s Sherlock Holmes in the battle against the soccer betting mafia, is a sophisticated man. It is the end of June, and far away, in South Africa, the best national teams of the world are going head to head. But right now, the chief of the UEFA disciplinary committee is worried about another match. He has brought his “best man” - a new young colleague by the name of Robin Boksic - with him to the Swiss city of Nyon to meet with stern and discuss a matter of great sensitivity. A bombshell.
Boksic talks, Limacher nods. The story revolves around the UEFA Cup Semi-Finals Return Game that took place in May 2008 – a 4-0 loss for the German team FC Bayern Munich to Zenit St. Petersburg. In truth, says the young UEFA-ambassador in Café Rapp in Nyon, Bayern Munich was bribed and threw the game. Limacher doesn’t contradict him. Boksic goes on to say that the Russian mafia paid millions of dollars, and there are receipts for eight-figure deposits made to a Bavarian bank account at the private bank Reuschel.
A small public prosecutor’s office just outside of Munich was already investigating the case, he said. The homes of Bayern President Uli Hoeness, treasurer Karl Hopfner and one of the players had been searched. In the player’s home they had found a million dollars and cocaine. Limacher promises to get the documents as proof for stern, he just needs a couple of weeks. Come September, they say, the UEFA disciplinary commission will be pressing charges against Bayern Munich.
"Out of thin air"
The charges are unbelievable, but they are being made by the right people. If they are true, FC Bayern Munich’s reputation would be ruined. Germany’s top soccer club – bought off? A club that is more than proud of its bulging bank accounts?
The club has been feeling the debt burden of the expensive Allianz-Arena and it paid 70 million Euros for its players in 2007. Still, it has a better credit line than any other professional soccer club in the world.
Weeks later, FC Bayern Munich denies the accusations, claiming they came “out of thin air” and says it will take legal steps.
The club says it will defend its honor.
This is not the first time Peter Limacher, 47, has raised a global ruckus. In November 2009, he held a press conference, together with public prosecutors from Bochum, to inform the public about the “largest betting scam in Europe”. They assumed that 200 games had been fixed, thirty-two of them in Germany. Seventeen arrest warrants had been issued.
“We are shocked at the extent of the match fixing by international groups,” Limacher said on November 20th.
Fight against corruption and racketeering
Overnight, the Swiss man from Bern became the poster boy for the fight against corruption and racketeering. General Secretary Gianni Infantino said UEFA was prepared to take on the challenge of “eradicating this cancer from soccer”. And in Peter Limacher, head of UEFA’s disciplinary service, the host of the Champions League and the European Cup seemed to have its greatest weapon in that fight.
Now, in the summer of 2010, Limacher brings Robin Boksic into the picture. In the first meeting with stern, Boksic claimed to work for the German Intelligence Services, and to have taken a leave of absence to work on reconnaissance for the UEFA match fixing scandal. Boksic ticks off the names of other prominent Bayern employees he says are involved in the deal: Advisory Board president Karl-Heinz Rummenigge, goal keeper Oliver Kahn, as well as defenders Lucio and Martin Demichelis.
But then nothing happens. Limacher doesn’t present any documents. All emails going forward are answered by his co-worker Boksic.
“I have the evidence,” he says. “You can have the papers next week.” But weeks go by, and there is no hard proof to show for the story about the FC Bayern mafia scandal.
Over time, it becomes apparent why.
According to stern’s investigations, UEFA itself is at the root of the scandal. Lead investigator Peter Limacher has become involved with a con man and a fraud. The man sitting at his side at the Café, who carries a business card with the UEFA logo and the word “investigator”. The man Limacher forced on the FIFA, so that the UEFA ambassador could save the World Cup in South Africa with his insider knowledge. A Croatian from Munich: 32-year-old Robin Boksic.
Boksic is part of the betting ring surrounding the soon-to-be-convicted Sapina Brothers in Berlin. He has a police record. A number of former business partners and friends have pressed charges against him for fraud.
Boksic never worked for the BND
But he is Limacher’s “best man” – and he comes and goes from the UEFA headquarters in Nyon as he pleases.
Limacher met Boksic in 2009 through an Austrian. He knew everything about the betting culture in the Balkans, a stronghold of match rigging and racketeering. And he liked to tell his story.
As the son of a Croatian restaurateur in Munich, he says he watched war criminals come and go in his parent’s business. At some point, after he had committed a crime himself, he had been paid a visit by intelligence agents from the German Intelligence Services, BND. They had given him the choice: either become an informant or go to jail. Boksic claimed to have been working for the Federal Intelligence Services, BND, for the past nine years.
But according to information gather by stern that is far from the truth.
Robin Boksic never worked for the German Intelligence Services.
"No one can touch me"
After completing the 9th grade, Boksic held odd jobs at restaurants and in betting offices in Munich and Berlin. He hung out in Café King in Berlin with the gambling brothers Ante and Milan Sapina, and worked as their delivery boy. Gambling, partying, living it up: They got along well. The notorious sports bar near the Kurfuerstendamm in Berlin still has pictures of Boksic on their website.
Dubious business deals with Croatian beach hotels followed - and claims that he scammed Bavarian and Croatian investors out of at least a quarter million Euros. When they started demanding their money back, Boksic got scared - and turned the tables on them. He took the case to prosecutors in Munich and claimed to be the victim of Croatian criminals, who have set a killer from the Balkans after him.
The trick worked and Boksic was put into a witness protection program. According to his file with the Munich district attorney, because of his “endangerment”, the Munich police department set Boksic, his wife and his daughter up in a “secret apartment”. From then on, the witness was known to speed through side streets in Munich at 100 kilometers. He boasted to friends and acquaintances that he would never have problems with the police. “No one can touch me,” he said.
And that was apparently true. In November 2009, Ante Sapina is taken into investigative custody in Berlin. And Peter Limacher hires his former buddy, Robin Boksic, to become a member of the UEFA disciplinary services.
At the peak of his career
He portrays himself as an insider who has switched sides – and whose contacts will help them catch some big fish.
Like FC Bayern. To sniff out the dirt that the top dog laid in would be a career highlight.
Peter Limacher studied law in St. Gallen and began his career at a pharmaceutical company. In the mid 1990s, he took the job with UEFA. The Swiss man is distinguished and reserved. He lives with his wife and two children in a village on Lake Geneva.
He was hired into the European soccer association’s disciplinary services and for years, all he did was handle charges brought against players who had been red-carded in UEFA matches. Five years ago, he was made head of the department. And he started delving into the realm of investigating match fixing.
In 1997, he was responsible for barring a bribed referee “for life”. The match fixing scandal surrounding German referee Robert Hoyzer gave the issue real weight.
In his new role, Limacher began using methods deployed by police and secret service agents. Even though, as an almost stereotypical functionary, he had no experience working with criminals, he attempted to procure informants from within gambling networks. Limacher wanted to do the investigating himself, dive deep into the depths of confusing, internationally organized criminal fraud rings.
In 2008, he hired Rudolf Stinner, an Austrian who had formerly worked for the State Bureau of Investigations. Stinner left UEFA in the summer of 2010 after a dispute. Robin Boksic came in to replace him. He was viewed as Stinner’s successor by the Bochum district attorneys working on the match fixing scam.
There are colleagues and old college friends who describe Peter Limacher as somewhat naïve. But in general, in the world of soccer, he has a reputation as being qualified, skillful and assiduous. Only seldom is he described as stubborn.
Russian mafiagroup Tambowskaja
But in May 2008, he banned Bayern star Franck Ribéry for three games, after a foul against Lyon in the Champions League, forcing Ribéry to sit out the championship match.
On May 17th, during the appeal hearing at the Court of Arbitration for Sport CAS in Lausanne, the UEFA man enraged the Bayern representatives. The fouled player, Lisandro Lopez, had testified that he didn’t believe Ribery’s foul to be intentional and said he should be acquitted. But FC Bayern still lost the appeal and the case caused uproar. Ribéry was not allowed to play in the final match, and Inter Mailand beat FC Bayern Munich 2-0.
Perhaps Peter Limacher was still worked up at the hearing. On April 30th, two and a half weeks before the hearing with the Munich team, he and Robin Boksic had paid a visit to Spanish authorities. They met with José Grinda Gonzáles, one of Spain’s most renowned public prosecutors. Grinda was heading investigations around the Russian mafia group Tambovskaya, whose leader had moved to the island of Mallorca. He had wire-tap transcript with quotes from Mafiosi bragging that FC Bayern had been paid “50 million” to throw the St. Petersburg game in 2008.
But in an interview, Grinda said the meeting with the UEFA officials on April 30th surprised him. Limacher and Boksic had promised documents and evidence, telling roughly the same story they shared with stern a few weeks later.
Boksics appearance irritates
“But you know, he is sitting next to this man who is so serious, a highly regarded disciplinary official at UEFA,” Grinda said. “I had no reason to believe that it was all made up.”
He gave the UEFA officials the three pages of transcript that made mention of FC Bayern. The quotes from mafia bosses about fixed games were very explicit. Initially Grinda said he believed that the UEFA officials would keep their promise and provide him with their extensive documentary evidence supporting the supposed deal between the Russian mafia and FC Bayern.
But four months have passed since then. And Grinda has still not seen any proof. He hasn’t received any calls, or emails. UEFA has gone silent.
Limacher's reputation protects him
Limacher’s reputation has protected him. And Limacher, for his part, has protected Boksic.
To question Boksic would mean to question Limacher – and in doing so, to question the UEFA’s fight against match fixing entirely.
Boksic, sitting at the heart of the organization, has access to a flood of highly sensitive data. Warnings from expensive informants like “Betrader” or “Asian Monitor”, who watch gambling circuits around the world looking for unusual activity, come into this center. Anything out of the ordinary lands on Peter Limacher’s desk – and he alerts prosecutors and clubs.
And Boksic is right there with him.
He has access to the much prized early warning systems. For a gambler like him, who likes to brag that he still likes to bet, it is a dream come true.
He can provide gamblers with insider information. He himself can place bets on games that are under investigation and most likely being manipulated.
"A very special guy"
That summer, Peter Limacher sends Boksic to the largest soccer event in the world. He flies with Emirates - business class – to the Soccer World Cup in South Africa as a representative of the UEFA – paid by the international organization FIFA.
Just before the opening game, Robin Boksic tells the colleagues at FIFA alarming news: According to the Chinese secret service, he says, there is match-fixing going on at the World Cup. Team Algerian has been bought. Nigeria: bought. Slovenia: bought. Serbia: bought. Slovakia: bought. Ghana: bought. Ivory Coast: most likely bought.
The accusations throw the FIFA into a frenzy. Their security experts have expressed doubt in the past about whether they could trust Boksic. In a phone conversation on May 25th, Peter Limacher assures them they can.
Boksic is a “very special guy”, he says, and he has provided many clues for fixed matches in the past. Limacher says Boksic is working for a secret service operation – but Limacher doesn’t know exactly for which organization.
Probably the German secret service, he says.
Limacher says he is sure that secret service agents “are flying with him. They are with him in the hotel, they are everywhere.”
The World Cup organizers are still suspicious
Limacher warns FIFA: “Be careful with Boksic, because otherwise he might stop cooperating and just disappear. We would be very unhappy here at UEFA if that happened.” At the end, Limacher sounds proud of his somewhat unorthodox investigative methods – which he doesn’t want to entrust to his colleagues.
“You guys over there at FIFA,” he says sympathetically, “you have a much more complicated system.”
But the World Cup organizers are still suspicious. They start a secret dossier and record Boksics’ assertions. For example, before Nigeria played Argentina he claimed that the Nigerian goal keeper had been bribed by a betting provider in Singapore. But Vincent Enyeama, the Nigerian goalkeeper was later named the “Man of the Match”. Boksic also listed more than 20 people, mostly Serbian and Slovenian national players, who he deemed to be “very dangerous”. Finally, he told FIFA that the German Intelligence Services had “proof” that FIFA head Joseph Blatter had received “a million Euros in bribe money”.
But he had no evidence to prove it.
FIFA let sleeping dogs lie
His claims were so far-fetched and contradictory that the FIFA security officials reacted – and reined in the supposed agent. They denied him the unlimited access to the World Cup games he had requested and refused him entrance to the team hotels, where he wanted to question players and trainers on his own.
FIFA officials also made sure that Boksic did not get access to the group’s own early warning system, EWS.
When they finally asked him to file a report, he disappeared altogether.
Since then, the international soccer organization has heard nothing more from him.
And Peter Limacher, the man who had recommended him, has not made contact with his colleagues.
FIFA on the other hand let sleeping dogs lie – even though their own dossier had enough ammunition to rock the powerful Europeans surrounding the ambitious president Platini and to debunk disciplinary head Limacher as a dilettante.
Limacher still trusts Boksic
The summary in the secret FIFA report is disastrous: “It is possible that the UEFA is paying for their own undermining and in addition, through Boksic’s mismanagement, may even be supporting international match fixing.” Boksic, the report goes on to say “has probably caused UEFA a great deal of damage.”
One of the characteristics of con men is that they keep going, even after they seem to have been found out. And the debacle with FIFA did not stop Peter Limacher from further relying on Boksic. The World Cup was still underway when he sent his “best man” to the Balkans.
Limacher sent a written request to the Slovenian club Football Club Olimpija Ljubljana on June 30th, asking that Boksic receive an “all-access accreditation” for the European Cup match against Siroki Brijeg (Bosnia-Herzegovina). He called Boksic “a member of the UEFA integrity team”.
What does Uefa-Boss Michel Platini know?
In late August, Boksic traveled to Croatia – a home game. As “investigator” he interrogated the referee about the supposedly fixed 2009 European Cup Championship – Dinamo Zagreb against Hajduk Split. But during his visit, Boksic is recognized by his own alleged fraud victims, as well as by gamblers, who call him by his nickname “Best Bet” and report that he was a great source of tips about fixed matches. The UEFA sent a racketeer to clear up a betting scandal?
Vlatko Markovic, the president of the Croatian soccer club, gets on the next plane to Nyon and takes his complaint straight to the UEFA president. According to a statement Markovic made to a Croatian paper, Michel Platini was “surprised” and said that he had never heard the name Robin Boksic before.
Did the UEFA boss Michel Platini have no idea who was investigating in the name of his organization in Croatian and making charges against FC Bayern? Or had he lost control of his organization?
Boksic is still riding high
Only Peter Limacher could explain how Robin Boksic was able to worm his way into and secure his place in the heart of UEFA. In a conversation with stern last Sunday, the disciplinary head still believed that Boksic was an employee of the German Intelligence Services.
Boksic still works for UEFA. FC Bayern is still under investigation.
Through UEFA, Boksic has access to the Bochum public attorney’s investigative files, can read all of the wire-tapping transcripts and testimonies. In the past months, he has not been very discrete with the results of the prosecutor’s investigation. For the prosecutors that could have dire consequences. The first trial is set to begin at the state court in Bochum on October 6th.
But Robin Boksic is still riding high. The UEFA investigator says that FC Bayern is trying to find a scapegoat – Oliver Kahn or Karl Hopfner. He doesn’t seem to care that fraud charges are being pressed against him as well.
Apparently, his world follows other laws. In February 2010, he walked out of a police interrogation in Munich, saying that he was “a kind of James Bond from the Balkans.”
By Rüdiger Barth, Wigbert Löer, Oliver Schröm, Johannes Gunst, Nina Plonka, Christian Bergmann and Andreas Mönnich