REPORTING FROM FINLAND
SINGAPORE has never qualified for the football World Cup, but Fifa has instead given us a dubious honour – we are the global kings of kelong (match-fixing).
A massive investigation by the world football governing body has unearthed "an academy" of match-fixers in Singapore, rigging many international matches around the world.
In a world-exclusive interview with The New Paper in Finland, Fifa's head of security, Mr Chris Eaton, said he was surprised by the "significant" involvement of Singaporeans in global match-fixing.
The New Paper understands that in late March, Fifa's top brass, including president Sepp Blatter, were briefed onthe findings of ongoing match-fixing probes globally, in particular Finland, where Singaporean Wilson Raj is being held.
Raj was arrested while trying to leave Helsinki-Vantaa international airport, allegedly on a fake Singapore passport on Feb 24.
Fifa's investigators informed Mr Blatter of the existence of a global network of fixers, operating out of South-east Asia, who have been rigging matches over the last 10 years.
This loose criminal network, working out of Singapore and Malaysia, was responsible for allegedly rigging international friendlies in the Middle East, Europe, Africa and South America.
Mr Eaton, 59, told The New Paper: "Wilson Raj Perumal is not alone. There are others like him (in Singapore). Singapore seems to feature a great deal in these (match-fixing) allegations.
"I form the conclusion that Singapore seems to have an academy of match-fixers, and that many of the inquiries we're making on behalf of Fifa are coming back to Singapore."
Mr Eaton, who was with Interpol for 12 years, joined Fifa before the 2010 World Cup. He heads its security department that has been investigating suspicious matches around the world.
Wilson Raj became an interest to Fifa investigators after his arrest, said Mr Eaton.
He had been on Fifa's radar even before he went on the run from Singapore in July last year after jumping bail for injuring an auxiliary police officer.
The Finnish authorities revealed that Wilson Raj had been implicated in match-fixing allegations with players from Finnish football clubs Rovaniemi FC and AC Oulu.
He has also been linked to a suspicious investment deal in which 300,000 euros (S$546,000) was given to money-stricken Finnish Division One side Tampere United.
Said Mr Eaton: "The Singapore connection is revealing a great deal of activity in many parts of the world now.
"Again, our inquiries show that people doing the same kind of work as Wilson Raj are involved in every continent."
In Finland, up to 20 national fixtures were believed to have been compromised.
In a recent trial in Bochum, Germany, three members of a betting ring were jailed for nearly four years for manipulating 300 football matches across Europe.
The key member of the ring, Ante Sapina, is currently out on bail.
While no link to Singapore has emerged from the Bochum trial, sources told The New Paper that phone taps have revealed that some syndicates in Singapore may be connected to organised crime groups in the Balkans.
In Finland, the capture of Wilson Raj has helped Fifa gain further understanding on the extent of the match-fixing scourge.
According to Mr Eaton, the Finnish authorities did not realise at first how big a "prize" they had caught as they "didn't know the extent to which Wilson Raj had been involved in match-fixing".
He said Fifa investigators have been cooperating with the Finnish authorities so they can "appreciate the significance of this man".
"The allegations against him are global in nature," Mr Eaton said.
So, just how many Singaporeans are involved in such rackets?
Said Mr Eaton: "It's far more than (Anthony) Santia Raj and Wilson Raj, I can tell you that. Our investigations are showing that the numbers (of Singaporeans involved) are not in the single digits, for a start."
Anthony Santia Raj, a Singaporean, had allegedly arranged international friendlies in Turkey on Feb 9, where all seven goals scored in the two matches involving four national teams came from penalties.
As of now, no formal charges have been made against him.
But how do these match-fixing syndicates operate out of Singapore?
The New Paper understands that there is a "loose" cooperation involving several parties.
Some operate as financiers and they place bets on fixed matches. They work with runners, who fix the matches.
The runners turn to match officials, such as referees, and players to help them fix the matches.
Fifa investigations reveal that even Under-17 and Under-20 players have been approached and nurtured by Singapore match-fixing syndicates.
If all goes according to plan, an investment of as little as 300,000 euros in a rigged match could result in profits of "tens of millions" for the syndicates, Mr Eaton said.
Football betting is now a multi-billion-dollar industry worldwide. Online betting sites have grown exponentially, with many even investing in sponsorship deals with football clubs.
For example, a recent paper presented to Fifa indicated that punters wagered 900 million euros in a single match between Liverpool and Chelsea in the Champions League in 2009.
There's no suspicion of any wrongdoing in that match, but it indicates just how much money is involved in global betting.
Said Mr Eaton: "With that kind of financial interest, criminals, being the greedy beasts they are, try to find ways to milk the potential windfall."
Fifa's primary concerns are to prevent match-fixing so that matches are played fairly and players and officials are protected from criminals, he said.
Mr Blatter, who is going for a fourth term as Fifa president in June, recently pledged to spend US$1 billion (S$1.22 billion) to develop football and fight corruption if re-elected, Bloomberg News reported on April 20.
He promised to "clamp down on the biggest enemies of football", citing them as corruption, match-fixing and doping.
But it won't be easy to eradicate match-fixing.
The criminals operate across many jurisdictions and countries, while law enforcement agencies tend to prosecute only criminals within a country's national boundaries.
While Fifa may be able to detect criminal activities in the sport and sanction corrupt officials and players, the prosecution of match-fixers and their accomplices still lies with law enforcement authorities.
From what has emerged so far in Fifa's ongoing investigations, no offence may have been committed in Singapore because the match-fixers tend to operate outside the country.
Said Mr Eaton: "The question is, if no offence is committed in Singapore, how can the Singapore authorities identify their (match-fixers') roles in international criminality beyond the Singapore borders?
"I'm not a lawyer, but I suppose the fact they reside in Singapore and conspire to fix matches is probably an offence in itself."
When asked, a lawyer here, Mr S. Balamurugan, clarified that if an offence under the Prevention of Corruption Act is committed by a Singapore citizen outside the country, he can be dealt with for that offence as if it had been committed in Singapore.
Mr Eaton, who is planning a trip to Singapore soon, said he would be happy to brief the authorities here on the involvement of Singaporeans in international match-fixing.
Nowhere to run, nowhere to hide