Durban – When the last ball of Afcon 2013 is kicked in Joburg on Sunday night and the hype is all over, international investigators will set their focus on South Africa and match-fixing.
In fact, football administrators across Africa will have to face up to possible deliberate or naive participation by their colleagues in the widest match-fixing saga the world has ever seen.
As a result of an extensive probe being carried out by European law enforcement agency Europol, and the likely subsequent involvement by world governing body Fifa, African football bosses will have to follow their counterparts from the rest of the globe and look for tentacles of Asian betting syndicates, particularly from Singapore and the Far East, among their officials and employees.
Three hundred matches across Africa, Central and Latin America and Asia are under suspicion, along with 380 European matches, according to Europol director Rob Wainwright, who is concerned about the integrity of football the world over because of the criminal infiltration in the game.
“I think they have a wide web of criminal activity, the illegal betting syndicates. This investigation being carried out in Europe is sure to be reported to Fifa as the world governing body of football, and the Confederation of African Football and its associations will all have an obligation to investigate the issue. If we avoid it, it won’t be fair,” said Poobie Govindsamy, the head of the the legal committee of the SA Football Association (Safa), on Tuesday night.
Govindsamy’s section and Safa’s security department are already involved with one case linked to the same syndicate Europol is primarily interested in, and which is said to be run by Singapore businessman Tan Seet Eng, who has links to jailed compatriot Wilson Raj Perumal.
The case covers the alleged fixing of several warm-up matches Bafana Bafana played before the 2010 World Cup and Govindsamy’s committee has to recommend the way forward to the executive of Safa as far as a commission of inquiry is concerned when the Afcon tournament ends.
The matches and referees were arranged by Perumal and the Football 4 U organisation with rubber-stamping by high-ranking Safa officials who will have to appear before the inquiry – Ace Kika, Adeel Carelse and Steve Goddard, with referees and others.
“Tan Seet Eng is the owner of the Football 4 U organisation and uses people like Raj Perumal as frontmen. The South African case is a separate matter, which we actually asked Fifa to investigate ourselves, but the role-players are the same,” said Govindsamy.
“Perumal and Tan are the common denominators in all of this. This Asian syndicate is making trillions and trillions of dollars. How they operate is they will contact football organisations and their referees’ departments under the guise of offering assistance, and if the football officials are naive and not concerned about criminal activities, they will welcome the assistance while others will be more circumspect. Getting control of the referees is the way to control the general outcome of matches or particular incidents during matches that bets can be based on.”
Govindsamy said he hoped the South Africans in question would be found to have been duped by Perumal, but there was no guarantee at this stage that money had not changed hands here or in other parts of the continent where cases might come up.
“It is obviously quite a sophisticated operation, one that is widespread and probably took much time to plan, considering that even European football is under investigation when it is supposed to be so advanced in terms of organisation,” he said. “I think the best way to curb gambling in sport would be to outlaw it completely.”
Last year Perumal was sentenced to two years in jail as part of a probe in Finland. He is now in custody in Hungary. Tan is reported to be at the heart of one of the leading fixing syndicates and is the subject of an international arrest warrant issued by Interpol, and wanted by authorities in Italy and Hungary.
The illegal-betting market is estimated by Interpol to be worth £58bn.