Perumal: Man behind vast match-fixing case

Perumal: Man behind vast match-fixing case

James M. Dorsey SINGAPORE - Hürriyet Daily News
Perumal: Man behind vast match-fixing case

Singapore national Wilson Raj Perumal (top) has been at the heart of Europol’s match-fixing probe, which was unveiled by the body earlier this week. AFP photo

Singaporean national at the center of a global football match-fixing scandal has provided key information that led to Europol’s disclosure this week that as many as 680 games on four continents were possibly fixed by Asian crime syndicates and their European helpers.

Convicted in Finland in 2011 on match-fixing charges and subsequently extradited to Hungary, one of several countries where he is wanted, Wilson Raj Perumal, a 47-year old engineer of Tamil origin, agreed to map out the syndicates’ global operations in exchange for protective custody.
“I hold the key to the Pandora’s box. And I will not hesitate to unlock it,” he said in one of a series of letters to Singapore’s The New Paper.

Perumal’s revelations add to a series of corruption scandals that have rocked world football in the last two years. The seriousness of the investigation into match fixing is likely to contrast starkly with efforts by world football body FIFA and many of its constituent regional associations to root out corruption.
Indeed, in seeking protective custody from his former associates whom he had short-changed to pay off gambling debts reportedly to the tune of $3 million, Perumal, believed to have been one of the smoothest operators of the rigging scheme, may have thrown the spanner into the works to fundamentally change governance of the beautiful game.

His operations did not simply involve the buying of corrupt players and referees but increasingly also of whole football associations, particularly cash-starved ones in Africa eager to play all-expenses-paid friendlies. In the process, Perumal and his associates generated hundreds of millions of dollars in fraudulent gambling winnings for Asian and European syndicates in a global business that grew exponentially with television and the Internet.

‘Broke’ associations

FIFA investigators say Perumal perfected his approach of associations in addition to individuals in the late 1990s in Africa in countries like Ghana and Zimbabwe. He projected himself as a promoter acting on behalf of front companies that arranged friendly matches.

“Most football associations are broke. When you go up to them with an opponent who is prepared to ... play a friendly, they welcome you with open arms. They don’t realize what is hidden beneath,” he said in one of his letters to The New Paper.

Perumal’s rigging empire began unraveling after a friendly between Bahrain and Togo in 2011 in which it became apparent that Togo had fielded a fake team that was defeated 3-0 by the Gulf squad.

Start of a downfall

In effect, however, the beginning of Perumal’s downfall preceded the match in Bahrain. A criminal with a long charge list involving housebreaking, theft, forgery, cheating and match fixing, he fled Singapore for a Tamil community near London’s Wembley Station to evade serving five years in prison for running over a policeman in 2009.

Authorities finally caught up with him at an airport in Finland in 2011 while attempting to leave the country on a fake passport, acting on a tip from one of his associates. With Perumal spilling the beans to save his own neck and take revenge on those he felt betrayed him, the syndicates appear to have made a fatal mistake in fingering him in the belief that he would not share his knowledge in a bid to save his life.

The decision to out Perumal was prompted by complaints to the syndicate by a Finnish club, Rovaniemi, that it had been paid less than the agreed $500,000 for its acquisition by associates of the crime group. Perumal had pocketed up to $300,000 of the sales price to pay off some of his gambling debts.

By that time, syndicate bosses already suspected that Perumal’s loyalties may have been divided.

They assumed that he may have tipped off FIFA about the fixing of two matches in the Turkish Mediterranean resort of Antalya – Latvia against Bolivia and Estonia against Bulgaria. More likely is that lack of caution by one of Perumal’s associates, Anthony Santia Raj, prompted the Latvian Football Federation to voice concern with FIFA.

In response, FIFA security chief Chris Eaton turned to London-based gambling watchdog Sportradar for help. Sportradar’s analysis of the betting pattern for both matches left little doubt that they had been fixed.

Perumal’s explanation of his demise is a very different one. He blames those he recruited and trained in Singapore, a perfect multicultural recruitment ground for Chinese syndicates looking for English-speaking operatives who can easily blend in in various parts of the world, for seeking to take over his position in what he describes as a cutthroat business.

“I would have admired my enemy if he had brought the sword to my heart instead of my back,” he said in one of his letters to The New Press.