The sad and shocking story of how an international betting ring manipulated warm-up games ahead of the 2010 Soccer World Cup is told by Ray Hartley in his book ‘The Big Fix’. Here is an edited extract from the book
“Chaibou walked into a bank in a small South African city carrying a bag filled with as much as $100000 in $100 bills, according to another referee travelling with him. The deposit was so large that a bank employee gave Mr Chaibou a gift of commemorative coins bearing the likeness of Nelson Mandela.”
– Report in The New York Times
One evening in May 2010, Bafana Bafana played Guatemala at the Peter Mokaba Stadium in Polokwane, capital of Limpopo province. It was an extraordinary game.
Referee Ibrahim Chaibou of Niger had a busy night. So busy that he appeared to be losing his focus. He awarded two handball penalties, though it was plain to all that, in both cases, the ball never came near the hand of the accused player.
A stunning last-minute strike by Bernard Parker put the icing on a fantastic 5-0 victory that signalled that Bafana’s World Cup preparations had paid off.
By this time, World Cup fever had gripped the country. Fans were encouraged to wear their Bafana shirts on Fridays and the yellow strip was proudly on display everywhere. Car mirrors were covered in gloves bearing the national colours and flags fluttered from car windows as the nation got behind the team.
The fact that Bafana were winning on the field added to the hype. The team’s excellent performance in the Guatemala friend-ly and in four other games – against Thailand, Colombia, Bulgaria and Denmark – was the subject of some pride.
But Chaibou’s poor performance during the Guatemala game was no fluke.
Two years later the country would learn with shock that Chaibou was blowing his whistle to please a global betting syndicate that had managed to take over the refereeing of Bafana games ahead of the World Cup.
It all began in early 2010 when a man identifying himself as “Mohamed’ appeared at the South African Football Association’s headquarters on the Soccer City precinct outside Soweto.
He was carrying a letter bearing the masthead of an organisation called “Football4U Int’l”. It gave its address as “Blk 640, 601-58 Rowell Road, Singapore”.
Dated April 29 2010, the letter was addressed to “Mr Nematandani Kirsten”. The name and surname had been mixed up; it was in fact addressed to Kirsten Nematandani, the then president of Safa.
The letter, which was copied to Safa’s chief operating officer Dennis Mumble and the head of national teams, Lindile “Ace” Kika, was headed: “Re: referees exchange program”. It referred to an earlier “meeting on the above-mentioned matter in Johannesburg” before going on to say: “We are extremely keen to work closely with your good office on the referees exchange program as discussed. We will be inviting South African Fifa-qualified match officials for international friendly matches and league matches in Middle East countries whereby we act as agents for the supply of referees and assistant referees.
“And in return we will be pleased to assist Safa in providing Fifa-qualified referees and assistant referees from CAF to officiate warm-up international [friendlies] in South Africa from May 2010 to June 2010.”
The man called Mohamed – later identified by Fifa as betting syndicate member Jason Jo Lourdes – met with officials and a deal was struck. To the cash-strapped national football association, the arrangement was manna from heaven. Football4U was offering to provide Fifa-accredited referees, covering their expenses, travel costs and accommodation at its own expense. And it was offering to pay for the use of South African referees in international tournaments.
But there were several obvious flaws to the offer that would have been picked up by an alert official. For one thing, Football4U gave its e-mail address as “firstname.lastname@example.org”. It is highly unusual for a credible business to use a free Yahoo e-mail address to conduct official business. The second was that Wilson Raj Perumal, a man with links to the betting underworld, signed the letter. If they had bothered to investigate him or his organisation, they would have discovered that he had been exposed for trying to fix a match in China eight months earlier.
Perumal, who was jailed in 2011, when the law finally caught up with him in Finland, would claim to have fixed “around 80-100 football matches” across the world, pocketing some $5-million, all of which, he says, he lost to gambling.
He told the cable network CNN: “I was on the bench at times, and telling players what to do, giving orders to the coach. It was that easy. There was no policing whatsoever.”
Perumal spelt out his methods in an extraordinary self-published autobiography with the title Kelong Kings: Confessions of the World’s Most Prolific Match-Fixer.
The book, which reveals how he built a global match-fixing racket, includes details of how he fixed the Bafana games. Perumal lays out his modus operandi in great detail in chapters explaining how he fixed earlier games involving the Zimbabwean national team during a tournament in Malaysia.
“Language is very important: things must be told in the right way so that when you put everything on the table, people don’t back away. ‘OK, that’s 50-50-50, three matches, $150000,’ I ran the presentation over in my head. ‘ Then if we decide that you proceed to the next round of the tournament, it’s another 50000. In total you’ll be making around $200000 ‘ … ”
In the South African case, Perumal’s man walked into Safa’s offices with an offer that was too good to turn down
Perumal worked on his voice, believing that it was all-important to sound right when you dangled the carrot of corruption before an official. “In order to convince someone you’ve got a plan, you’ve got to speak like Robert De Niro. He is one of my favourite actors, as is Morgan Freeman; I like listening to them speak. It’s not easy to sound like them; if only I were blessed with the way these guys talk, things would be much simpler. In my next life, I wish to have Morgan Freeman’s voice.”
The penurious Zimbabwean football fraternity made easy pickings for Perumal and his Morgan Freeman drawl.
“Deep inside, I knew that the Zimbabweans needed money; US$100 in Zimbabwe was a lot of money, and here we were talking about hundreds of thousands of dollars. According to my calculation, I had an 80% success rate; I had already fixed with Zimbabwe in 1997 [and] knew how vulnerable they were, I could almost read their minds.”
He had the shallowest interest in the countries he visited, thinking only of how he might make a fast buck by corrupting their football authorities. In Zimbabwe, his disdain was immense.
“As we drove from the airport to town, I thought: ‘F***, this country is backdated.'”
Perumal’s shtick was simple. He found an official, gave them the flimsiest of identifications and then, after chatting for a while, put the money on the table: “I showed up at the Zimbabwe FA’s offices with only a name card … I’m not a formal person and I don’t like wearing ties, but I was nonetheless decently attired. I met the Zimbabwean official who introduced himself as Jumbojumbo.”
Once introduced, Perumal said he was aware of Zimbabwe’s “quite bad” economic situation. He was offering something for free: an all-expenses-paid trip to Malaysia to participate in an eight-team tour- nament with a group stage, quarterfinals, semis and a final.
“‘There’s no prize money up for grabs and we will not pay you an appearance fee but we will give you 30 tickets to fly to Malaysia and have a good time.’
“I added, ‘If you want to make extra money, I have another idea. As the promoter of the tournament, it is my duty to bring the host team to the final. Some teams will have to make way for the Malaysian team.
“‘We have a capacity crowd, so Malaysia has to make it all the way. If you give me your co-operation, if the whole team co-operates, I will give you $50000 per match.'”
Perumal sat back and allowed the offer to sink in before adding, in his best De Niro voice, that “the coach, the players, everybody needs to dance to our tune. We will pay you cash on completion of each job, $50000 after each game, 50-50-50, three matches, $150000. Then, if we decide that you will quality for the semifinals, it’s another 50. In total, you’ll be making about $200000.”
Another pause before adding: “That’s a lot of money.”
And then came the clincher: “Everything is paid for: tickets, accommodation, extras … and here is $10000 for you. Take it as a gift on my part. I don’t know if you will be able to convince your superiors. If you won’t be able to, then just keep the $10000. But if you will, then there will be $200000 waiting for you out there in Malaysia.”
The next day, when he called Jumbojumbo, he got the response: “We are ready. No problem.”
Once in Malaysia, Perumal’s helper Thana got to work.
“Thana’s guys were all over the players, buying them mobile phones, football boots, jerseys, shorts and other gifts. The players were like children walking into a candy store; Thana really put them on a shopping spree.
“‘Take what you want ,’ he kept repeating with a smile, ‘but just give us the result.'”
After all, it’s Africa, not Europe, where there are too many questions asked…. In Africa, it can be done
Before the first match, Perumal made his point again: “‘Listen,’ I told the Zimbabwean players before their first match in the cup, ‘this game has got no value: it’s not a World Cup qualifier; it’s not an Olympic qualifier; nobody is going to remember you for winning this match or this tournament. Win or lose, you are not going to go anywhere.
“‘But if you do as I say there are $40000 for you players to share.'”
Perumal also fixed a string of matches featuring Zimbabwe in what came to be known as the “Asiagate scandal” between 2007 and 2009.
No fewer than 93 players and officials were suspended, for periods ranging from six months to lifetime bans.
Perumal was arrested and convicted in Finland after he tried to fix games in the local football league, the Veikkausliiga, in 2011.
The reason for this somewhat obscure league being chosen by the syndicate was simple: Finland was one of the few countries that played its football during the European summer, when there was precious little else to bet on.
In the South African case, Perumal’s man walked into Safa’s offices with an offer that was too good to turn down. Perumal said the man was called “Anthony” – a likely reference to Anthony Santia Raj, although Fifa investigators believed he was the match-fixer Jason Jo Lourdes.
It could be that Perumal deliberately used the wrong name to confuse investigators and protect his friends who had not yet been arrested or that the Fifa investigators got the name wrong.
But Fifa and Perumal agree that a betting agent met with Safa officials that day and that he left with a deal that put Perumal in control of the referees for South Africa’s five warm-up games leading up to the 2010 tournament.
In Kelong Kings, Perumal spells out how he went about rigging the South African friendlies: “The South Africa World Cup friendly warm-up matches were my idea. I had thought about the scheme four years earlier, right after being released from prison.
“I was sitting in front of the television watching the telecast of the warm-up matches played before the World Cup in Germany. ‘F***,’ I thought, ‘there is no real football involved here. All you have to do is put two teams together and you can make big money.'”
When 2010 came around, Perumal hatched a plan: “‘Why don’t I get my referees to officiate in the World Cup warm-up matches before the 2010 World Cup in South Africa?’ I thought.
“‘After all, it’s Africa, not Europe, where there are too many questions asked and strict regulations to follow. In Africa, it can be done.'”