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Unless you live under the sea in a bubble made of plexiglass, you’ve probably heard the news that Europol believes as many as 680 matches have been fixed around the world in recent years. And while that number is staggering, it surely fails to capture the true scope of match-fixing in the world’s game. The sobering truth is that syndicates from Eastern Europe to Southeast Asia have had their tentacles into the sport for years. Two of the biggest figures in match-fixing, a Singapore man called “Dan Tan” and his mentor “Mr. X” stand at the heart of the problem.
The background on the revelations, courtesy of the New York Times:
European police intelligence agency said Monday that its 19-month investigation, code-named Operation Veto, revealed widespread occurrences of match-fixing in recent years, with 680 games globally deemed suspicious. The extent was staggering: some 150 international matches, mostly in Africa, Asia, and Latin America; roughly 380 games in Europe, covering World Cup and European championship qualifiers as well as two Champions League games; and games that run the gamut from lower-division semiprofessional matches to contests in top domestic leagues.
Word subsequently trickled out that a Champions League match that took place in England in the last three or four years was on the list; Danish sources identified it as a 2009 tilt between Liverpool and Hungarian side Debrecen.
The report in Ekstra Bladet claimed fixers wanted to rig the betting market for total goals in the match, but failed. The newspaper claimed that fixers wanted to ensure there were at least three goals in the match and that according to court papers, they texted each other to express frustration at Liverpoolâ€™s failure to score more.
The player most likely involved in the potential fix was Debrecen goalkeeper Vukasin Poleksic, who was later banned by UEFA for failing to report an approach by fixers before a match against Fiorentina. Liverpool says they’ve had no contact about the match, indicating that it is not currently under investigation.
While the details are new, the specter of match-fixing is not.
Just last week, the leading voice on the match-fixing scourge, Canadian writer and reporter Declan Hill, lamented inaction on the part of Interpol to arrest Dan Tan. Tan, based in Singapore, is believed by Hill and others to be the driving force behind the fixing of hundreds of sporting events around the world. Hill related his declaration in Rome at a conference for European football associations on match-fixing organized by Interpol.
There are five words that can sum up this whole conference and all its themes: education, player awareness, and integrity. There are five words that if ignored mean that we will lose sport as surely as a sport in Asia has been destroyed â€“ leaving our industry, our passion, and our gift to the next generation devastated.
These then, are the five words: Dan Tan must be arrested.
Tan has not been arrested, a lack of action Hill blames on his gang’s connections to powerful people in Asia. The Singapore government blames the lack of an extradition treaty with the European Union, though Hill points out that FIFA and Interpol have a multi-million dollar education center planned for that country. A tangled web of money and favors protects Tan from facing justice, despite mountains of evidence that he and his organization are responsible for manipulating the outcome of games spanning the whole of the globe going as far back as the 1990s.
Tan’s probably most notorious in Italy, where he is wanted in connection with match-fixing, and further, links to murders and suicides in that country.
The person at the center of this extraordinary story is a 48-year-old Singaporean named Tan Seet Eng or â€œDanâ€ Tan. In Cremona, Italy, state prosecutors claim that Tan helped corrupt dozens of professional soccer teams and hundreds of professional players and officials. Investigating Judge Guido Salvini, who is one of the leaders of the Italian investigation, wrote in his official report: â€œDan Tan and his group constitute a criminal network that is both dangerous and are quick to violence for anyone who breaks their rules. This is stated in the testimony of one of the members who said it takes very little in the case of treason by one of the groups to risk their murder.â€ Not only do the Italian state prosecutors want to speak to Tan, but Hungarian police and the German Organized Crime Task Force have issued either official requests or warrants to have him extradited. Both those countries have seen murders or suicides linked to gambling in sports. Both are anxious to speak to Tan.
Tan’s net worth is thought to be over fifty million dollars. He lives an idyllic life in Singapore, where officials refuse to act on Interpol’s arrest warrant. Meanwhile, his foot soldiers comb the globe looking for games to fix these could be international friendlies involving fake teams, high-profile matches across Europe, or matches in far-flung leagues outside of the usual spotlight.
One of those foot soldiers now sits in a Hungarian prison. His name is Wilson Raj Perumal, and after landing in Finnish prison last year, he claimed it was Tan that conspired to have him arrested while Wilson Raj Perumal was fixing matches in Finland. As Declan Hill reported in December, a man simply walked into the local police station in Rovaniemi, a remote Finnish town with a population of 60,000, and revealed the presence of Wilson Raj Perumal. Police arrested Wilson Raj Perumal, and the tipster disappeared.
Wilson Raj Perumal told the website Invisible Dog in July of 2012 that Tan’s career began with taking illegal bets on horse racing and soccer in Singapore in the early 90s. Under the tutelage of a man named Eswaramoorthy Pillay, whom Wilson Raj Perumal calls “Mr. X”, Tan learned how to fix matches. Previously content to fix only matches in Malaysia, it was Mr. X who extended the business to Europe.
“This is when Mr. X decided to venture abroad. He started a bogus company and built relationships with people in Europe who were related to soccer. During these trips, Tan acted as his bookkeeper. During one meeting in 1995, I suggested to Pal that we switch off the floodlights in EPL (English Premier League) matches in order to win the bets we places (The Asian betting allowed payments for matches that ended during the second half). No one took it seriously at that time. In 1997 Mr. X sold this idea to a Malaysian syndicate and the plan was executed. There were matches in the EPL namely West Ham V Crystal Palace and Wimbledon V Arsenal where the floodlights were switched off to suit the result”.
This is the mentioned West Ham v. Crystal Palace match; the failure was subsequently confirmed as the work of saboteurs paid by the Asian betting interests:
Here’s where I feel obligated to mention the two notable floodlight failures at Craven Cottage and the Super Bowl.
Tan, according to Wilson Raj Perumal, also tried to pull the floodlight trick during a match between Barcelona and Fenerbahce.
“Tan had placed bets on Fenerbache (sic) to win the match. But the score-line read 0-4 in favor of Barcelona during the half time. If the lights were to go off before the second-half kick-off then the betting would be canceled. Tan switched the lights off but the stadium officials used a generator to re-activate the floodlights and this match backfired”.
When Mr. X ran up debts at casinos on the Continent, Tan stepped in to take control of the operation. Since he has enlarged the operation to fix games on every continent. He was named as the man behind the syndicate that fixed matches in the Canadian Soccer League, a small regional league operating mostly in Ontario. Last week the Canadian Soccer Association pulled its sanctioning of the CSL, a direct response to the match-fixing scandal.
Meanwhile, European football authorities are left staggering in the wake of the Europol allegations. Tan remains free, and though Singapore claims it will cooperate with Europol, questions remain as to the government’s commitment to rooting out the problem.
Even Europol’s commitment is in question. In light of the news that they have not contacted Liverpool in regards to the 2009 match with Debrecen, Europol appears content with breaking the scandal and nothing more.
So Europol called a press conference saying they were investigating 100s of cases and today they said they are no longer investigating…
— raphael honigstein (@honigstein) February 5, 2013
UEFA did a little better.
Debrecen says Uefa did question their goalkeeper after he was approached by match-fixers before that Liverpool match. Uefa took no action.
— David Conn (@david_conn) February 5, 2013
No nation or league is immune from match-fixing. In North America, all three professional leagues are addressing the potential for the problem to hit their competition. Philly.com’s Jonathan Tannenwald has a full rundown.
The MLS statement includes references to early warning systems, a new ban on the use of electronic communication a full hour before a match, and background checks on referees.
(1) In 2012, MLS enrolled in an early warning system that monitors gambling worldwide. Additionally, we have a soccer security agent in Las Vegas that monitors gambling activity there.
We recently completed a 2-day training seminar with Interpol and CONCACAF wherein we were exposed to current best practices.
This season we are instituting a ban on phones and electronic communication devices from within the locker room 60 minutes prior to kick until the match’s end. This includes social media.
With the Professional Referee Organization (PRO), we conduct thorough background checks of all officials working in the League.
The running theme through all three organizations (MLS, NASL, and USL) is the stated belief that their leagues are just as susceptible as any other.
(3) While we have faith in the integrity of those associated with MLS, we will not ignore what has already transpired around the world. We are not so naive as to think we are immune.
We are hiring a Director of Security who will be charged with developing an integrity program as well as additional defensive measures. This area will be a primary focus.
NASL president Bill Peterson:
[Someone who believes match-fixing can’t happen in the U.S.] would have his or her head in the sand. There’s no immunity built into sports in North America, and it’s important that those of us who are responsible for managing those sports take every potential threat and activity that can harm the sport seriously, and do everything we can to prevent things like this from happening.
But our players are human, and there are just as many dark forces floating around this part of the world as there are anywhere else. So it’s important now – obviously, it has become a news story, and very topical. I think everyone needs to consider the seriousness of it and get together and sort out the best possible defense against it happening.
USL president Tim Holt:
We have been disheartened to see the recent news reports on the level of money wagered on matches in certain North American soccer leagues, but it serves as a wake-up call to all that this is a serious problem and no professional soccer league (irrespective of its geography) is immune from elements related to sports gambling including match-fixing.
Any sport that has its integrity open to question faces losing trust with the public. That trust is integral to support. No soccer league, but especially those in North America, can afford to lose the trust and support of its fans. The more stridently and proactively these leagues address the potential for match-fixing, the more secure their positions as respected sporting competitions will be.
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