WILSON Raj Perumal’s global match-fixing from tropical Singapore to chilly Finland have led him to be anointed the kelong king.
But he said someone else is more deserving of that title – fellow Singaporean Rajendran “Pal” Kurusamy (below).
Rajendran, who has been convicted and jailed on several occasions, is awaiting trial in Malaysia on seven charges of bribing football players to manipulate the result of a President’s Cup match and five other graft charges.
In a series of four letters he wrote to The New Paper last week, Wilson Raj proclaimed: “Please don’t give me the tag ‘kelong king’. The throne belongs to Rajendran Kurusamy.
“He was the all-time greatest match fixer in South-east Asia. He was the only Indian who was able to take control of this business from the Chinese from ’92 to ’94.
“If not for Pal, Singapore would have never won the ’94 Malaysia Cup. But he was also responsible for Singapore’s loss in ’92. The golden age of Pal lasted for three years.”
The New Paper on Sunday learnt from Rajendran’s close family friend that Wilson Raj was probably referring to the 1993 final when Singapore lost to Kedah 0-2.
Singapore thumped Pahang 4-0 to win the 1994 Malaysia Cup at Shah Alam Stadium, the first time they won the tournament since 1980.
However, the family friend declined to affirm or deny if 51-year-old Rajendran had indeed rigged both the 1993 and 1994 tournaments.
He said: “People often talk about this. Those in the inner circle know this. However, Pal has neither denied nor confirmed this.
“You have to ask him yourself one day.”
Wilson Raj, 45, is not the only member of the underworld of match-fixing who holds Rajendran in such high regard.
A 40-year-old businessman, believed to be one of Rajendran’s proteges, acknowledged that Rajendran was the “the No 1 fixer in the region” in the 1990s.
He added: “You just can’t talk about kelong without mentioning Pal. He was the fixer’s fixer whom people in such circles looked up to.
“You can’t mention Malaysia Cup without mentioning Pal. He was up there when others like WRP (Wilson Raj) were just at the beginning of their career in kelong.
“He was so respected that the players of one particular football nation in Indo-China would not do any business with you if you didn’t know him.
“They would say ‘talk to the Singapore boss first before agreeing on any fix’.”
Even those from rival match-fixing syndicates acknowledged the reign and influence of the kelong king during his heyday.
Said one such rival who wished to remain anonymous: “In the 90s, those kelong king wannabes wanted to be like Pal.
“They saw those working for Pal, especially one man who was young and drove a luxury car, and they wanted to follow him.
“It became more appealing when Pal disclosed in the papers that he made millions from match-fixing.”
During Rajendran’s trial for fixing Malaysian Premier League matches in March 1995, The Straits Times reported that within six months of becoming a bookie, Rajendran had raked in $1.4 million to $11.5 million worth of bets in 23 matches involving Singapore.
Rajendran told the court in Tamil then: “I fix matches to ensure that I win bets. It is well-known in the market that I always win.”
It is not just figures in the match rigging circle who point to the influence of Rajendran in football’s seedy underbelly.
It’s a sentiment shared by football’s “kelong hunter”, Fifa head of security Chris Eaton who recently said: “He’s (Rajendran) potentially more significant than Perumal.”
While Rajendran earned his crown for his exploits in the region, Mr Eaton added that his influence spans “Europe and likely Central America, too, in my estimation”.
Rajendran’s notoriety though has come at a price, and he has served stints in prison both in Malaysia and Singapore in the 1990s and early 2000s.
In 1996, he was jailed for a day and fined RM$10,000 (S$4,500) in Penang for trying to fix Malaysian League matches in 1994.
In 1997, he was jailed 27 months for trying to bribe three S-League players.
The following year, he was fined the maximum $200,000 for match-fixing. He also had his jail term raised from six to 18 months by the Chief Justice.
But even behind bars, Rajendran couldn’t leave profiteering from football behind.
In 1998, he bribed a prison warden to smuggle a handphone to him so he could place bets on the 1998 World Cup.
It earned him an extra 24 months behind bars.
Beyond the realm of match-fixing, Rajendran has had a chequered past.
He was detained for secret society activities from 1985 to 1989.
Said Rajendran’s rival: “Pal is a dangerous man. You have to be if you’re a Singaporean who comfortably operates out of Malaysia.
“You just can’t have an outsider operating in someone else’s home turf unless, of course, you are well-connected. Pal is.
“He is not only a kelong king, but he is the head of a gang. So nobody dares to touch him there (in Malaysia).”
However, Rajendran’s family friend paints a different picture of him.
He told TNP: “I pity him, his legitimate business of supplying labour has not done well.
“He wanted to leave his notorious past behind in Singapore. That’s why he chose to leave in 2008.
“In Malaysia, he moved from state to state, never at one place for too long.
“He is a low-profile man. For a man who is said to have money in the bank, he likes to meet at coffee shops and eat cheap food.
“He is not a flashy person as one would assume. His English is not so good, you can understand him better in Tamil or Malay. He is after all, your typical Indian man.”
Commenting on Rajendran’s pending trial for match rigging in Malaysia, the friend said: “When we saw his pictures in the papers, we all thought, ‘Oh no, not again’.
“But we’re sure he will be able to weather whatever comes his way. Put him in a jail cell on a thin mattress or no mattress, he still will not complain.
“Once he was jailed and kept in a small cell with the lights on 24 hours a day. But he came out fine, as though he had been on a holiday. That’s what he recounted to us (friends).”
Rajendran’s match-fixing case in Malaysia is set to be re-mentioned on Thursday at the Kuala Terengganu Sessions Court.
He is facing a maximum of 20 years’ jail or fine of not less than five times the bribery amount or RM10,000 whichever is higher.