Monday September 16 2013

– No one could work out why the second-tier soccer side filled with internationals could play so badly.

And no one could work out why the professional footballers had agreed to play for beer money – arriving as they did on visitors’ visas to take the field for the Premier League’s newly promoted Southern Stars.

On paper they should have topped the table – instead they were on the bottom with only one win and a global deficit of 46.

But to sports corruption experts there was no mystery. It was the classic combination of journeymen players, a second-string competition and a growing interest from Asian gambling rings.

The man calling the shots had not seen a Southern Stars game or even attended an Australian soccer match.

He was half a world away in Hungary – and considered the world’s biggest match fixer.

Wilson Raj Perumal, a Singaporean national, was arrested in Finland but released to become a prosecution witness in a series of European cases.

Perumal is alleged to have bribed as many as 11 Finnish players, fielded a fake side as Togo’s national team in a rigged match against Bahrain and bribed players to lose in Thailand, Malaysia and Syria.

“He fixed five international friendlies before the World Cup,” says International Centre For Sport Security director Chris Eaton.

Asian betting records show there had been a flood of money in the dying minutes of games for the Southern Stars to forfeit goals, with the side often losing four-nil after late scores.

The big payoff for Perumal was to be the second-last game of the season, Southern Stars against Richmond last Friday.

The Asian bookies had calculated the Richmond side as the likely winners by 78% and so Perumal’s syndicate was able to invest heavily at six-to-one odds for the draw. Which was the exact result, allegedly netting the syndicate around $2 million.

Which is why police from the Purana Taskforce and the sporting integrity intelligence unit moved on Sunday to arrest nine players and the coach from the Southern Stars.

The team had only one game left and the suspect players would soon be leaving Australia.

“They were in party mode,” said one detective.

For the past three years in Victoria have publicly declared that Australian professional sport is in danger of being infiltrated by match fixers. They have expressed concern that international journeymen players with pre-existing corrupt relationships with professional punters have been recruited to play in local sport.

In December 2011 leaders from 12 elite sports, including AFL, rugby league and union, soccer, netball, tennis and racing codes, were briefed by senior Victorian Police and Australian Crime Commission officials on the problem.

The response varied from alarm to apathy.

The following year at an international conference in Paris, Victoria Police Deputy Commissioner Graham Ashton was told of the activities of Perumal’s syndicate.

In confidential meetings, senior sports officials, police, government agencies and anti-corruption experts concluded that match-fixing had expanded to such an extent it was now a major organised crime threat.

Three sports were identified – soccer, cricket and tennis – all codes where players travel across the world to play in areas often considered notoriously corrupt.

A few weeks later Deputy Commissioner Ashton told Fairfax Media, “Match fixing is imminent in Australia. It is a growing area of concern for us. This thing is coming down the highway and we have to be prepared.”

On Sunday he added, “This should be a wake-up call for all sports in Australia.”

Police remain frustrated that the federal government is yet to amend laws to allow them to brief sporting bodies on material acquired by phone taps.

– John Silvester


About Jumpin' Jack Cash
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