FIFA pledges 'aggressive' match-fixing crackdown
In this photo provided by ACT Productions, FIFA president Sepp Blatter, right, meets Francisco Cati from the Mexican national beach soccer team during the CONCACAF congress in Miami on Monday, May 2, 2011. (AP Photo/ACT Productions, Mitchell Zachs)
Published Tuesday, May 10, 2011 6:15AM EDT
ZURICH, Switzerland - FIFA has pledged an aggressive fight to track down organized crime leaders responsible for a wave of match-fixing and betting scams in football.
Two Singaporean men suspected of fixing international matches in Bahrain and Turkey have been identified as "middle level" operators, FIFA head of security Chris Eaton told The Associated Press.
Eaton said FIFA is aiming higher up the crime scheme's hierarchy.
"Having identified them as only half way up the structure's hierarchy, we're not resting on this, I can tell you that," said Eaton, a former Interpol manager of operations. "I have every support from the FIFA president and the secretary general to go about this most aggressively."
Eaton spoke after FIFA announced a C20 million ($29 million) project with the international police agency on Monday to fight match-fixing over the next 10 years.
FIFA President Sepp Blatter said his organization "would lose all credibility" if fans lost faith in the honesty of matches.
Interpol will host a FIFA anti-corruption centre at its new base in Singapore to train players, referees and officials how to identify fixing attempts.
Eaton said FIFA, which is tightening rules on how to plan international matches, aimed to change the game's culture.
"I have no doubt at the end of that 10-year period, almost every footballer, official and administration in the world will well know how corruption is fomented in football and how to resist it," he said.
FIFA has acted after suspicious international friendlies exposed flaws in existing regulations.
Singaporean businessman Anthony Santia Raj has been linked to a Feb. 9 double-header played in Antalya, Turkey, where crime gangs are believed to have made millions of dollars, including on bets that more than two goals would be scored.
When Latvia beat Bolivia 2-1, and Bulgaria played a 2-2 draw with Estonia, all the goals came from penalties. The low-ranked match officials from Hungary and Bosnia have been suspended by their federations and charged by FIFA.
Eaton said Santia is being pursued, though is believed not to be in Singapore.
FIFA and Interpol acknowledge needing help from state law enforcement agencies.
"Match-fixing is not particularly sexy as an investigation, but I hope now that Interpol and others make national law enforcement more aware of the scope and size and the criminality involved, that they will take more interest," Eaton said. "It is, in fact, organized crime."
Police in Finland are preparing charges against another Singaporean, Wilson Raj Perumal, in connection with attempts to fix league matches there. Two players from Zambia received suspended prison sentences last week after admitting taking bribes, and nine more players face charges.
FIFA believes Perumal organized a notorious match last September, sending a fake Togo team to Bahrain for a friendly that the unwitting host easily won 3-0. Perumal also has links to fixing involving Zimbabwe national team matches played in the Far East.
Eaton said a turning point had been reached in FIFA's fight to protect football from match-fixing syndicates.
"They have had a free rein for too long. We've now identified over these last three months the true extent of the criminal activity in match-fixing and now we've put all these resources and focused them at it," Eaton said. "I think they're in for a fight and they know it."