SII Focus 6th July 2016

Southern Stars unlikely to be only team in control of match-fixers in 2013

An investigation by Jack Kerr has found that Southern Stars were unlikely to be the only Australian team infiltrated by match-fixers during the 2013 season, and fixed games may have also taken place during the 2014 season. The interview for ABC radio (mp3 below), features excerpts from a rare recorded conversation with match-fixing kingpin Wilson Raj Perumal (pictured), who tells undercover investigators that he planned to fix games in Queensland during the 2014 season.

“This is the clearest sign yet the Southern Stars scam probably didn’t happen, or may not have happened in isolation”, says Kerr. “In fact, the research revealed question marks over a number of clubs in a number of States, not to mention links to player agents”.

One of the clubs identified by the investigation is Albany Creek Excelsior, which plays in the Brisbane Premier League. The club took on five English players that were former teammates or friends of Southern Stars players implicated in the 2013 match-fixing investigation, two of which were suspected by Australian police of potentially being involved in match-fixing at the time. Group chats unearthed between the players, seen by The Sports Integrity Initiative, include a picture sent to a new arrival at the club from England featuring a picture of a pile of brown paper bags, one of which has his name on.

One of the players, who joined Albany Creek in 2013, is a former England U18 international who has also played for Antigua & Barbuda’s national team. Another, who also joined Albany Creek in 2013, had trials as a junior with FA Premier League club Arsenal. None of the five players have been convicted of match-fixing.

As with the Southern Stars case, the modus operandi appears to be to flip the odds, by paying players to perform badly over a period of time until the odds rise to a favourable level, then asking them to perform well (i.e. win). This is sometimes known as a ‘cold start’ amongst match-fixing investigators.

In the 2013 recording, held by The Sports Integrity Initiative, Perumal talks about about brining in players he controls from all over Europe. “I want to take an apartment in Brisbane, maybe two or three apartments in Brisbane”, he says in a conversation with Mike Pride of SI Sports Intelligence, who was investigating match-fixing in the English Conference South at the time. “I’m going to dump all these players on a working visa in Australia – especially in Brisbane. And I’m going to get about three or four boys to play in each club in Brisbane. These boys are all good players, OK. And they are going to voluntarily go the club and say can I join you, because I’m on a working visa. So as soon as they infiltrate, about four or five guys, and like I said, we re going to play total football again, understand? So we have another one year to make money. For these games, maybe we’ll be making […] marginal money – so that the Sportradar doesn’t notice anything funny.”

Perumal explains the theory behind a ‘cold start’, adding that the players would do exactly what was required to get the results that are needed. “That is the purpose of why they are going down there”, he says in the recording. “These players, it’s like a horse race, like what I told you. If you let a class one horse race against a class four horse, he’s just going to canter and win the race. So if I’m going to put four or five horse down there, I will definitely be able to achieve the result.”

Group chats between the players in 2013, also seen by The Sports Integrity Initiative, include pictures of expensive computer equipment (three Apple laptops and accessories) waiting for one of the players at their apartment on their arrival in Brisbane. This could be a very generous legitimate welcome gift from the club, however it is of concern given the comments from Perumal regarding his wish to rent apartments in Brisbane.

In June 2014, Birmingham Crown Court sentenced three men for attempting to fix football games. It found that Singaporean Chann Sankaran and Krishna Ganeshan, a UK national originally from Sri Lanka, had recruited Michael Boateng from Conference South team Whitehawk FC to help them fix games. As the contract below reveals, Krishna Ganeshan also had complete control ‘to manage and administer’ Southern Stars from July until 5 September 2013.

Worryingly, it appears that similar agreements were also set up with other clubs. The document below illustrates such an agreement held with a club in Finland. Chann Sankaran – a signatory on the agreement – was convicted of match-fixing by Birmingham Crown Court alongside Krishna Ganesha in its June 2014 judgment. Sankaran introduced undercover investigators to Perumal, which is how Mike Pride’s recorded conversation came about.

Conclusion

The revelations above reveal the lengths that match-fixers will go to in order to fix a game. They also show the extraordinary contacts of Wilson Raj Perumal, who is understood to have been released from custody in Hungary after helping authorities investigating match-fixing in European football.

Perumal was extradited to Hungary as a witness as part of a match-fixing trial into a criminal network based in Sinagpore that allegedly fixed football matches over a ten-year period. The ongoing trial, which began in January last year, names Tan Seet Eng – also known as Dan Tan – as the main ‘in absentia’ defendant of 12 charged with being involved in fixing games.

Last year, Perumal claimed to have fixed a number of international games in a programme aired by Al Jazeera (video below). This was done by securing control over the organisation of games through a company called Football 4 U International, which signed deals with national associations.

As sports betting integrity companies are well aware, monitoring betting patterns alone will not detect determined attempts by match-fixers. Intelligence and the ability to investigate that intelligence are necessary as well.

Traditionally, sports betting integrity companies have monitored betting patterns to analyse where potential match-fixing could have taken place, flagging suspicious betting patterns to sporting associations. The interview with Perumal reveals that back in 2013, match-fixers were changing their modus operandi in an attempt to evade such companies. In the recorded conversation, he mentions ‘only’ making US$50,000 per game in an attempt to make such match-fixing attempts undetectable. 

In reality, such attempts were unsuccessful. Sportradar detected what Perumal was attempting to achieve and reported it to the Football Federation Australia (FFA), as well as Victorian Police. Through its monitoring systems, the company identified fixed matches that helped support the FFA and police investigations. In the end, six individuals – including four of the players – were convicted under State legislation.

Jack Kerr’s investigation shows that fixers are monitoring how they are being identified and investigated, and are looking to find loopholes and ways to avoid detection. Monitoring betting patterns provide a valuable indicator, but Sportradar and other sports betting integrity companies work with in-house investigative capabilities or law enforcement agencies to secure the extra intelligence and evidence required for successful convictions.

It is interesting to note that both Kerr and Sportradar had seen the tweets and group chats posted by the players. Questions do remain as to whether all the players and clubs involved were identified in the course of the resulting investigation, and if they were, why were they not prosecuted?

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