Soccer scandal a 'national embarrassment' for Singapore | Connect Asia

Soccer scandal a 'national embarrassment' for Singapore

Soccer scandal a 'national embarrassment' for Singapore

Updated 6 February 2013, 15:38 AEDT

Authorities in Singapore say they're assisting European authorities in their investigation into an international criminal syndicate that has been found to have fixed more than 600 soccer matches, including World Cup qualifiers and Champions League games, between 2008 and 2011.

Investigators say the scam was backed by a Singapore-based betting cartel.

Singapore Police says it takes a strong stance against match-fixing and is committed to working with international enforcement agencies to bring down transnational criminal syndicates including those that involve the acts of Singaporeans overseas.

Presenter: Girish Sawlani

Speaker: Neil Humphreys, author of Match Fixer


HUMPHREYS: I'd like to say there has, but sadly, no, not enough and I think this one has been something of a national embarrassment for Singapore, because I think they were very much caught out by the vehement reaction to this story in the West. And Singapore's been playing catch up ever since, with the exception of one paper, the New Paper, which has been doggedly following match-fixers for many years. No other newspapers in Singapore put it on their front pages. In one particular newspaper, it was buried, whereas, of course, it's been front and back pages across Europe. So they've been caught on the back foot. Initially when the story broke, the police that you mentioned there refused to comment, there was no official reaction from government sources, there was no official reaction at all and they were caught out and embarrassed by the international criticism that followed. Because what you have to remember and what listeners do not always appreciate is this is nothing new, this nothing new in Singapore. Match-fixing has been rife for the best of 40 years, going back to their Malaysian Cup Competition played between Malaysian States and a Singapore select side. There have been documented cases of match-fixing for over 40 years, where people have been subsequently been found guilty and gone to jail.
So the initial Singapore reaction on the street was extraordinary. There was just a shrug of the shoulders and a case of yep, it's just another case of match-fixing, but this one isn't. This is the biggest match fixing scandal in the history of World football and Singapore, was caught out.
SAWLANI: As you mentioned before, and I noticed as well that the story about this syndicate ended up on page three of Singapore flagship, Straits Times newspaper on Tuesday. What's the front page looking like this morning?
HUMPHREYS: Well, I can only tell you the New Paper, the New Paper has gone for an extraordinary story and that is that they've uncovered five more match-fixers operating in Singapore. I mean the focus has been on two characters, again we have to say alleged match-fixers at this stage, a guy called Wilson Raj and Dan Tan. Now Dan Tan is allegedly involved in the current syndicate that you're all reading about, that involved all those games in Europe, the Champions League and so on. Wilson Raj, actually you don't have to call him alleged. Wilson Raj is a convicted Singaporean match-fixer. He went to jail in Finland, he served the sentence in Finland for fixing games  in the Finnish League and he is now under house arrest in Europe. So he is a convicted match-fixer. Mr. Dan Tan is suspected of being involved in this current syndicate, but it's been revealed just today, just a couple of hours ago, that there are still five completely different alleged match-fixers operating right now in Singapore. It's extraordinary.
SAWLANI: Indeed, you've written widely about match-fixing in Singapore, but does the scale of the revelations brought to light by Europol and Interpol investigations come as any surprise to you?
HUMPHREYS; No, not at all. In fact, I've been talking about this for years on ABC, but the only thing that surprises me, if I'm being honest, was the slightly naive reaction from the West. The contrast between the Western action, the Western reaction and the Eastern reaction it's been quite extraordinary. Because in the end, I mentioned just now, in the east in Singapore, Malaysia, South East Asia, the reaction has been yep, so what? This is pretty much what we do in this part of the world. We've got match-fixing examples as long as your arm. In the West, in the United Kingdom, in Germany, and even Australia, the reaction was this is unbelievable, this is unprecedented, we've  never known anything like this. Well on the contrary, not only have we been well aware of this for sometime and the alleged operators involved. This is just nothing new. The only thing that has happened here is that these guys have gone truly global. Because they honed their skills during the Malaysia Cup era. The Malaysia Cup, as I mentioned, is a domestic tournament in Singapore-Malaysia that goes back 100 years. It was a cup tournament started by the British and games have been fixed there since the 1960s. So Europe had match-fixing syndicates operating within the region for 30-40 years. So by the time you get the advent of satellite television, which beams in, half a dozen English Premier League and major European League every week to households across Asia and then you also get the advent of online betting agencies, both legal and illegal. Once you had those two factors in place, you had crime, you had Asian betting syndicates, primed and ready to go global. So no, I'm not surprised at all.
SAWLANI: Now, remembering the days of Michael Vana, during by years as a young kid there. Could you tell us perhaps from what you gather how did this syndicate work out of Singapore, this particular syndicate?
HUMPHREYS: It's very, very interesting that you mentioned Michael Vana, and for the benefit of your listeners. There was a major match-fixing scandal in 1994. It was so big, involving so many of Singapore's household names that Singapore eventually was kicked out of the Malaysia Cup, and they've only just gone back into the tournament a season-and-a-half ago. So 1994 was the biggest match-fixing scandal to hit Singapore, Malaysia. It involved Australian players, it involved Singaporean players. Many were given lifetime bans and that was the beginning of the end.
But, that scandal is important because would you believe it involved some of the same names and the same faces that are still operating today and have been named in that scandal.
Fastforward to the year 2000, and there was a famous incident when a British footballer, this is the public domain, a British footballer called Max Nicholson, playing in the Singapore S League, stepped out of condo one day and two masked men attacked him with hockey sticks, beat him quite severely, so he couldn't play in a subsequent fixture, because he was that team's best player and they wanted that team to lose. One of those guys, who attacked him, was our infamous Wilson Raj, who was subsequently found guilty of that crime and served a jail term and then he pops up in Finland, a few years later, match-fixing in Europe and he, again is linked to this ongoing syndicate. So we're seeing the same names and the same faces. How do they work? Essentially, they are backed by a significant, a significantly wealthy number of very shadowy individuals, businessmen. There were Chinese businessmen, there were Indian businessmen involved, mostly in Singapore. There are one or two also in Malaysia. They financed the likes of Wilson Raj. Wilson Raj gets a brief case, allegedly has a brief case of dollars. The going rate is supposedly about 100-thousand US or we're hearing now 100-thousand euros and a couple of match-fixers are dispatched to a country somewhere and they would target a side usually in the lesser leagues, in the lower leagues, for two reasons. The obvious reason is people always assume the money, these players and officials are paid less money, that's half the reason. The other reason often gets overlooked, they're lower profile. So any games with irregular score lines goes slip beneath the radar. I mean let's say for arguments sake, you fix a Manchester United or a Liverpool game, that's going to come up on everybody's radar immediately, but if you fix lesser lights, in eastern Europe, in European Leagues, Middle Eastern Leagues, Asian-African Leagues, because these guys have been involved across the world in all the major federations, Soccer Federations around the world. You fix lesser lights, they are cheaper and less high profile and therefore you've got more chance of getting away with it.
So it's only one or two individuals. This is the other thing, listeners always assume, oh, you've got 22 players, a referee, two assistants, 40,000 screaming crowd, windy conditions, how can you fix a game? They don't have to fix a game. This is the thing that often gets lost. They don't have to fix a game. They only have to fix an incident, because if you go on some of these betting agencies now these web sites, they have so many quirky, irreverent bets. You can place bets on the first throw in, the first corner kick, the first  yellow card and that is increasingly where these betting syndicates go. They place what you call spread bets, where you say, several bets on the first minute, second minute, the third minute, the fourth minute, before the first throw in or the first corner kick and if you get it, you win big.
SAWLANI: Neil Humphreys, we're looking at these figures from Interpol and Europol. Two-point-five-million dollars paid out in bribes. It seems like a pretty small sum for such a big syndicate. Is there more to the story than that?
HUMPHREYS: It is a small sum, because that's this one particular bet. You see it's quite common that they will, the big money be placed on the bet itself, so once the bribes are in place, as I mentioned, they'll spread bet. So they'll bet, Wilson Raj allegedly betted up to between 500,000 and 700,000 per bet, that's per bet. But to cover their bases, they might place half-a-dozen or a dozen bets per game. So, for example, coming back to my earlier point. If you've approached an official to give an early  yellow card, you still have to rely on someone to give a tackle, even if its an innocuous tackle, he has to wait. So they may place a bet, a half-a-million bet on the first minute, another one of the second minute, the third minute, the fourth minute and fifth minute to cover those early minutes, because obviously the earlier the yellow card, the bigger the payout. So the bets may only be half-a-million dollars each, but they'll spread them out. They might place a dozen of those bets to ensure that they get covered, so that when they get that payoff, let's say the referee gives a yellow card in the eighth minute and the eighth minute pays out such a huge sum, that will cover all their other bets and make a huge profit as well.
SAWLANI: And just briefly Neil, Singapore prides itself as having one of the least corrupt governments anywhere in the world. Does this criminal syndicate have the potential or this issue have the potential to severely damage that reputation?
HUMPHREYS: Do you know, I wish I could say yes, but sadly, I'll have to say no, because when it comes to match-fixing. It's very strange. There's a number of issues going on right now in Singapore we don't need to get into, political issues, some corruption stories that have really upset the population and has put the government under a little bit of pressure. But when it comes to match-fixing, there is usually a collective shrug of the shoulders as I mentioned earlier, because they just assume it's normal. They've had to come out this morning and say, yes, we're going to look into this. I suspect, because the international vehement reaction, more than the domestic one. The domestic reaction is usually, yep, it's match-fixing, sadly we've been doing it for 40 years, let's move on. But I think the international reaction has forced the government to act on this one.

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