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TNP's kelong hunter launches book

For four years, he has lifted the lid on global match fixing for The New Paper.

It has brought him to the attention of the world's media and the syndicates behind the illegal betting activity.

Now he has written a book about his journey. SUE-ANN TAN (suetan@sph.com.sg) speaks to TNP senior correspondent Zaihan Mohamed Yusof about his hunt for the Kelong Kings.

IT ALL STARTED...

In September 2010, I was called to investigate a football match between a fake Togo national team and Bahrain.

I was doubtful and not really excited by the prospect. I'm a crime reporter and knew nothing about football!

I thought it would be a better job for the sports desk but my editor said not to follow the game, but to follow the money.

I thought it would be five stories at most. Nearly 150 stories later, I'm still going.

IT GOT INTERESTING...

The following month, my colleague and I tried to find the business locations of convicted match fixer Wilson Raj Perumal's company, Football Four U.

In Rowell Road, a provision shop stood where the match organising company should be.

I briefly felt that it was a wild goose chase. But the non-existence of the company piqued my news radar. There was more to this than we first thought.

A few days later, a man claiming to be Wilson Raj called to insist he was not involved in the suspicious Togo game. But he boasted that he had organised more international friendly matches than the four Fifa-approved match agents in Singapore.

This made me determined to solve this mystery.

MY STRANGEST 
ENCOUNTER WAS...

In March 2011, a man claiming to be Wilson Raj's friend wanted to meet to set the record straight.

In 14 years of journalism, I have never seen anything so surreal.

At a void deck, among the stone tables and senior citizens, sat a man wearing a welder's mask!

As I approached him, he called my mobile phone to be sure of my identity. Only then did he start talking.

I was nervous. It could have been a set-up. There is big money in match-fixing and I'm sure whoever was behind it would not want a journalist poking his nose in. I was ready to run.

It was a risk, but I had no choice - I had to meet him alone if I wanted answers.

INTERNATIONAL MAN OF MYSTERY...

In April 2011, I flew to Finland to interview Wilson Raj, who was being held in a police station in the city of Rovaniemi.

At nearly 0 deg C, it was just too cold for me. It also didn't help that the Finnish police were suspicious of me at the time. They kept asking why I needed to speak with Wilson Raj so urgently and they denied my request to interview him.

In Helsinki, I met Mr Chris Eaton, Fifa's head of security. He dropped the bombshell that Singapore had "an academy of match fixers".

I was shocked. My search was no longer for just one or two people, it was a whole network.

THE SCARIEST MOMENT...

A few days after TNP published Mr Eaton's quote, I found a large dent on the driver's side of my car. There was no way it could have been an accident because I had parked it next to a concrete pillar.

Over the next two years, my car was dented more times and the tyres were punctured twice.

I was angry but also concerned for my wife's and kids' safety. I took some security measures and to date, I still sleep with a baseball bat within reach.

I was tipped off that a Croatian crime syndicate was tracking me, asking my source when I was leaving for Europe. I also found out that there had been at least 100 football-related killings in Eastern Europe since the 1990s. As a precaution, I never tell anyone about my movements.

THE BIGGER FISH...

In July 2011, I knocked on Dan Tan's door. He was said to be the head of a match-fixing cartel.

Back in 2010, his name was scribbled on a piece of paper by Wilson Raj's ex-employee. But we had no idea how crucial he was to the investigation at the time.

We eventually found his home. Tan's wife answered the door and said he was away.

It was a blow but she did confirm that Tan's full name was Tan Seet Eng.

When I got home two hours later, Tan called me. I dropped everything and grabbed my notebook and pen.

At first, he denied everything.

But when I mentioned Wilson Raj's company, Exclusive Sports, he admitted he had invested but the deal had turned sour. He wanted no part of the company or Wilson Raj.

I KNOW THE SCORE... 
SOMETIMES

There have been occasions when I know a score prior to a match because of boastful tip-offs.

The score was 0-0 at half-time, but the end result was 5-0.

It is never outwardly clear from watching a game that match fixing has occurred.

During the 2011 Concacaf Gold Cup - a prestigious tournamentin the Americas - I was told that three football teams were "willing to do business" with Singaporean match fixers.

On the day of the competition, I received the final scores on two matches, roughly 10 minutes before kick-off. I informed a Fifa contact who was at the competition.

Two weeks later, German news magazine Der Spiegel reported that three games were suspected of being rigged, including the two 0-5 results I had been tipped off on. It also quoted an unnamed investigator as saying: "Everything leads to Singapore."

MOST DIFFICULT JOB...

In 2013, my colleagues and I staked out Oxley City, an amateur league football team. A tip-off said that Tan sometimes turned up for the team's practice sessions.

It was frustrating. We would turn up and essentially wait for a no-show.

Each stake-out was at least three mosquito-filled hours. Just waiting and being poised for action should Tan appear. It was a headache. We didn't get the picture we wanted - we had hit a wall. It was a low point for me.

DAN TAN'S ARREST

In September last year, Tan and 13 others involved in global match fixing were arrested by the Singapore authorities.

I wondered if that was the end of my journey with match fixing. But even with Tan's arrest, the kelong saga has yet to see an end.

THE MYSTERY CONTINUES...

Can the match fixers be totally eradicated?

It is lucrative... too lucrative. You can earn anything from $200,000 to almost $1 million in just 90 minutes.

There will always be someone wanting to get some of that action.

To really cripple kelong syndicates, we need to talk less and have more investigators on the ground to hunt the fixers.


FOUL! THE INSIDE STORY OF SINGAPORE MATCH FIXERS

Out now in major bookstores, price: $19.26.

It can also be ordered online at www.stpressbooks.com.sg

match-fixing