KEIR RADNEDGE REPORTS: Australian police believe that notorious Wilson Raj Perumal was behind a matchfix scandal involving British players in Australia — prompting renewed warnings about the game’s worldwide vulnerability.
A number of footballers from the UK are among 10 people arrested and being questioned by police in a criminal investigation. They could face up to 10 years in jail under tough new Australian criminal legislation as well as lifetime bans from football worldwide.
The suspected involvement of Perumal is startling for two reasons: firstly, this latest case illustrates the depth and reach of the fixers and, secondly, because simultaneously he has been in Hungary ‘helping police’ with inquiries into matchfixing in eastern Europe.
Perumal, who was jailed in Finland after an infamous and long-running manipulation there, has been linked with matchfixing scandals exposed from central America to southern Africa.
All his ‘activity’ has been on behalf of the multi-million Asian betting rings. Police in Melbourne have suggested that hundreds of thousands of Australian dollars were generated by a syndicate which took over and undermined the Southern Stars FC club in the regional Victorian Premier League.
This is the most significant matchfixing scandal ever to hit Australian soccer.
Information and insight into the international context and connections was provided by former Australian detective Chris Eaton and his colleagues at the Qatar-based International Centre for Sport Security.
Eaton, former security director of world federation FIFA, said: “Football is in serious integrity trouble on a global scale. It is vital that the interests of football, police, sport betting and relevant regulators both combine and internationalise information and cooperation in some way – and soon.
“Criminal matchfixing remains big, global and organised. The detection, disruption and deterrence of it must be equally as big, global and organised. As of today it is not and local police services have considerable challenges with international investigations of this nature.”
Southern Stars are a Turkish-backed club (once known as Genclik Gucu – Youth Power) . They narrowly escaped relegation last year and currently bottom of the table.
Individuals being questioned include coach Zaya Younan and players David Obaze, Nick McKoy, Reiss Noel and Joe Woolley.
Younan, 38, was appointed last October. A successful property developer, he had played for Sydney Marconi and Preston Lions and was once called up for an Australia youth squad. Later he coached Waverley Wanderers and Brandon Park;
Obaze is an English central defender of Nigerian family background who moved to Melbourne after playing non-league football in the UK with Southend, Harlow Town, Bromley, Weymouth, Grays Athletic, Sutton, Bishops Stortford and Eastbourne;
McKoy, another English defender, played in the English Football League with Wimbledon, Milton Keynes Dons, Cardiff City, Torquay United, Shrewsbury Town, Kettering and Northampton Town; he also played briefly in Scotland with St Johnstone and had non-league stints with clubs including Grays Athletic, Bishop’s Stortford, Tamworth, Sutton United and AFC Hornchurch;
Midfielder Noel and goalkeeper Woolley also both played for Hornchurch.
Police Deputy Commissioner Graham Ashton said that winnings on the bets were estimated at around A$2m and alleged that the players had been paid thousands of dollars. He described it as the biggest match fixing scandal in Australian history.
Ashton could not rule out the possibility that they had been involved in match fixing at their previous clubs. They are expected to be charged with corrupting the outcome of betting.
David Gallop, chief executive officer of Foo0tball Federation Australia, said that it had provided police with information relating to suspicious betting activity and welcomed the investigation by the Sports Integrity Intelligence Unit.
He added: “The integrity of football is paramount. We provided information to Victoria Police within 24 hours of receiving an alert from our international betting integrity monitoring agents Sportradar, who then worked closely with the investigation team.
“The arrests today show that the integrity measures put in place by FFA are working to detect illegal betting activity. We’re determined to keep football clean. Alongside other sports bodies in Australia and globally, we must eradicate corrupt behaviour from sport.”
Eaton thought the pace and focus of the police action in Victoria set a benchmark for other forces around the world.
He said: “The Victoria police investigation is exceptional. It commenced only six weeks ago and has already reached a significant first conclusion . . . This contrasts with similar investigations in some other countries, which seem to drag on for long periods of time.”
If found guilty the players are likely to receive life bans which the FFA would expect FIFA to enforce worldwide.