Singaporean Tamil behind football's fixing disclosure

FP
When Rob Wainwright, head of the European anti-crime agency Europol, told a news conference on Monday that over 680 football matches across the world could have been rigged, he was likely revealing information provided in large part by a Singaporean man of Tamil origin, now in jail for match-fixing.

Wilson Raj Perumal, 47, was the front man for a Chinese criminal syndicate run from Singapore, and had fixed hundreds of matches across five continents, generating hundreds of millions of dollars in gambling winnings for Asian and European syndicates. He was arrested in Finland in February 2011, and had decided to switch sides in exchange for protective custody.

The ugliest ever match-fixing scandal in the Beautiful Game involved World Cup and European Championship qualifiers, and a Champions League game played in England, police said.

On Tuesday, the football association of Singapore said it was continuing "to work closely with the relevant authorities, both at the domestic and international levels" in the probe. The Singaporean police said they were "assisting the European authorities in their investigations into an international match-fixing syndicate that purportedly involves Singaporeans".

Media reports from Singapore profile Perumal, who was fluent in English and had a Singaporean passport, as a petty criminal involved in several cases of housebreaking, theft, forgery and cheating, and whose initial attempts at match-fixing had been both ineffective and crude.

He was jailed in 1995 after being convicted of paying a football captain $ 3,000 to throw a game, and was again convicted five years later for attacking a player in Singapore's Woodlands Wellington team, in an attempt to harm the side's chances for a subsequent game.

With time, however, Perumal was to turn into a smooth operator, probably the most successful man ever to have fixed a football match. A report published by ESPN.com last year called Perumal the "world's most prolific criminal fixer of soccer matches".

According to the ESPN.com report, Perumal perfected his scheme in the late 1990s in Ghana and Zimbabwe, learning how to bribe players and dupe federations. Posing as the representative of a front company, he would approach cash-starved national federations eager to play all-expenses-paid friendlies. "They welcome you with open arms. They don't realize what is hidden beneath," he would later write to Singaporean journalist Zaihan Mohamed Yusof from a Finnish prison.

Perumal paid federations as much as $ 100,000 to arrange a friendly. He would set up the matches, promote them, and select the referees. With most friendlies not sanctioned by FIFA, all Perumal needed to do was find a stadium and pay a day's rent. The match-ups would feature a pre-decided number of red cards, penalty kicks and offside calls. Alongside referees, Perumal also bought coaches and players — mainly from Africa, central America and the Middle East — and paid them more than $ 5,000 per fix.

The syndicate Perumal fronted was run by four bosses, led by a man named Dan Tan Seet Eng, the ESPN.com report said. Once the fix was set up, associates sat with computers, placing as many small bets as possible, spread across numerous credit cards.

As Perumal and the syndicate grew increasingly confident, they staged 'ghost' matches like one between U-21 teams from Turkmenistan and Maldives — which neither association was aware of. Perumal allegedly also fielded a fake national side from Togo in a rigged match against Bahrain in 2011, which they lost 0-3.

As it turned out, this game attracted plenty of media attention, and was the first in a series of mistakes Perumal made after incurring huge gambling debts. He started pocketing some of the money meant to set up the fix. When Dan Tan gave him 500,000 dollars to buy a club in Finland, where several fixes had been made, Perumal pocketed a large part.

The Finnish police were tipped off probably by one of Perumal's associates, ostensibly over a passport violation. An angry Perumal hit back against the syndicate by beginning to cooperate with the authorities, and his testimony led to a court in Italy indicting Dan Tan in December 2011. Agency reports on Tuesday, however, said the Singaporean authorities were yet to take Dan Tan into custody.

After he served a one-year sentence in Finland, Perumal was turned over to Hungary, one in the long list of EU countries where he was wanted on match-fixing charges. He remains in Hungarian custody currently.

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