Monday September 16 2013
– The world’s biggest match-fixer is suspected of masterminding the rigging of professional soccer matches in the Victoria Premier League while under police protection in Europe.
A Fairfax Media investigation can reveal that authorities are examining how Wilson Raj Perumal was able to allegedly control the biggest match-fixing operation in Australian history despite ostensibly being under police protection in Hungary as a supergrass on match-fixing cases there.
On Sunday, Victorian detectives arrested nine players and the coach of the Southern Stars Football Club in Melbourne’s southeast. Fairfax Media can also reveal that Perumal is suspected of recruiting skilled “journeymen” players from the United Kingdom to join Australia’s second-tier soccer league, where they could more easily manipulate the outcome of games but still play in matches that attracted large betting pools across Asia.
Police moved within 48 hours of the syndicate attempting to pull off a final season sting involving the Southern Stars game on Friday night, which Fairfax Media watched at the ground.
The accused players may have allegedly fixed every match they played this season after being directed by the syndicate to lose, draw or win, or to concede goals or commit fouls at certain periods of the game.
It is unclear whether any other Australian or overseas clubs are implicated, although a former successful UK professional and former A League player is understood to be a person of interest in the ongoing investigations.
The arrests put fresh pressure on federal and state governments to pass laws allowing police to share information with sporting bodies more easily. They also raise questions on whether the Football Federation of Australia has done enough to combat corruption, with multiple sources saying the FFA is well behind other codes despite soccer being the nation’s most corruption-exposed sport.
Perumal, a Tamil from Singapore with multiple convictions for match-fixing, agreed to assist European authorities in exposing his global match-rigging empire after he was arrested for fixing matches in Finland in 2011.
Perumal is suspected of using one of his lieutenants, Singaporean Jason Jo Lourdes, to liaise with the allegedly corrupt Southern Stars players while also having direct contact with at least one player.
Perumal and Lourdes are suspected by Interpol and world soccer body FIFA of fixing matches across the globe. Perumal may also be involved in the match-fixing that led to several players being arrested in the Czech Republic and Slovakia last week.
It is alleged Perumal’s syndicate may have earned up to $2 million by betting on the outcome of Southern Stars games.
Mid-tier British professional players Nicholas McCoy, Reiss Noel, goalkeeper Joe Woolley and David Obaze are among those arrested over suspicions of receiving kickbacks from the syndicate for manipulating the outcome of Southern Stars games. Woolley and Noel joined the club in the middle of this year after unexpectedly leaving English club AFC Hornchurch.
On Sunday, the Victoria Police organised crime taskforce Purana arrested nine players and the club’s coach, Zaya Younan. Several of them are likely to face charges of attempting to manipulate the outcome of betting.
Match-fixing carries a maximum penalty of 10 years’ jail.
Purana’s Operation Starlings has been running since August and is believed to have involved extensive surveillance of the players. It is the first time Australia’s new sport integrity laws have been used in Victoria and only the second time they have been used in the nation, with NSW police charging two men with race-fixing earlier this year.
The police investigation began after Sportradar, a global betting analysis firm contracted by numerous sporting codes to monitor betting patterns, notified the FFA about suspicious wagering in Asia on Southern Stars games. The FFA passed this information to police.
Customs officers also reported that several of the players had suspicious travel movements. They travelled to international party hot spots including Bali and Spain and appeared to enjoy lifestyles in excess of their income.
The club has lost 16 matches this year – conceding 54 goals – and is on the bottom of the ladder.
Club president Ercan Cicek said his club had been provided with five players from England this season at no expense but he had no suspicion of any alleged match-fixing until news of the arrests on Sunday.
“Last year somebody emailed me from England [saying] ‘We want to sponsor your club,'” Cicek said. “Our committee members are thinking, ‘Oh beautiful, five players for free, we’re not going to pay for anything, it’s a big, big bonus.'”
Several sport integrity experts told Fairfax Media that the FFA’s integrity systems were well behind those of other codes. “The FFA’s integrity system is a joke. Nobody even knows who their integrity officer is,” said one well-placed source.
On Sunday, FFA chief executive David Gallop initially declined to name the code’s integrity officer. At a press conference he defended the effectiveness of soccer’s anti-corruption system.
A FFA spokesman told Fairfax Media on Sunday night that the integrity officer was its head of legal and business affairs, Joe Setright, who has served as the FFA’s top in-house lawyer for several years and sits on several national and international sports integrity committees.
A 2011 state government-commissioned review by top sport investigator Des Gleeson confidentially found that the FFA’s integrity system was grossly inadequate, although Mr Gallop has introduced reforms since his appointment in 2012.
Chris Eaton, the former chief FIFA corruption investigator who is now integrity manager of International Centre Sports Security, said the arrests were “abject proof of the endemic nature of corruption in football”.
“Football needs something drastic to overcome what is a massive problem for the sport,” he said.
Mr Eaton, who has spent four years investigating Perumal, questioned how he was able to allegedly fix matches in Australia while under police control in Europe.
– Nick McKenzie, Richard Baker & Nino Bucci