Tuesday September 17 2013
– Some in the crowd thought the international referee had lost his marbles – or at the very least the pea from his whistle.
What else could explain why he refused to call time on the game, which was now creeping into the 98th minute.
At the end of the scheduled 90 minutes referee Ibrahim Chaibou ordered a further six minutes of injury time. The score at that stage had Nigeria leading Argentina 4-0 in the 2011 exhibition match and yet there was a flood of money still hitting the bookies for another goal.
When the score didn’t change in the six extra minutes Chaibou refused to blow full-time and allowed the game to continue.
And yet he proved his whistle was working when he called a handball foul on Nigerian defender Efe Ambrose although the ball clearly hit his thigh. Argentina scored from the penalty, leaving a scoreline of 4-1 and some punters millions richer.
Now investigators are looking at five international games refereed by Chaibou in which there were late punting surges and bizarre results.
Southern Stars versus Richmond at a Melbourne suburban soccer ground may be modest compared with showpiece stadiums that house the “Beautiful Game” , but for international match-fixing experts it was a sting played out by the same syndicate.
Indeed, Chaibou was recruited by notorious match-fixer Wilson Raj Perumal, the same man alleged to have organised fixed Southern Stars games in Melbourne.
The end result, though, may be different after the weekend arrests, with the extra time in the Melbourne case to centre on possible jail sentences of up to 10 years under new match-fixing laws.
The European Union law enforcement agency Europol has identified almost 700 games around the world suspected of being fixed. It declared 435 match officials, players, club officials and known criminals were linked to 380 suspected crooked games at different levels of professional soccer throughout Europe.
A key to the claims is an international police operation codenamed VETO, carried out in 13 countries that involved analysing 13,000 questionable emails.
Europol says the main ring is based in Singapore – and Perumal is central to the international hub.
Embarrassingly, he was released from prison to blow the whistle on others and instead took to allegedly fixing games in Australia while supposedly working for European police.
When he was previously arrested he had the numbers of senior soccer officials in Asia, Europe and Africa in his mobile phone. And they took his calls even after he was identified as a match-fixer.
Soccer corruption has become so lucrative that Interpol says two major international organised crime syndicates have switched from drug trafficking to concentrate on match-fixing.
Sportradar, the international company that identifies fixed games (and initially blew the whistle in Melbourne) claims 300 games are corrupted every year in Europe alone.
And that is why the Purana Taskforce investigation, codenamed Starlings, is sparking great interest around the world.
Not only did detectives make a series of arrests, the operation took just six weeks.
Police say the sting was worth at least $2 million, but it may be much more. During the investigation they did not make inquiries with the Asian bookies who took the bets for fear their targets could be tipped off.
But using Sportradar they have identified a series of Southern Stars games in which the team, littered with classy internationals, lost badly and in which there were goals conceded just before full-time – a classic Perumal fix.
According to Chris Eaton, the director of the International Centre for Sport Security, Victorian police succeeded because they used organised crime detection methods rather than treating the issue as a sporting one. “This is not about match-fixing, it is about massive betting frauds. Victoria did in six weeks what some European agencies haven’t been able to do in four years,” he said.
“This is big, global and organised and the response should be big, global and organised.”
Sportradar monitors games in which there are late bets, unexplained odds and large goal spreads.
Chief Commissioner Ken Lay told Fairfax Media: “We have seen this coming over the hill for more than 12 months now and have taken proactive action. We hope we have nailed this [syndicate] before it got out of control.”
Deputy Commissioner Graham Ashton said it was difficult to establish if some of the imported players had pre-existing relationships with bookies and match-fixers. Ashton has for the past two years been warning locals sports they could be targeted.
After attending an international forum in Paris, Ashton publicly declared: “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.” Now it has arrived.
– John Silvester