Tuesday, 5 February 2013

Match Fixing in Football and in the UK too?

Fifa wants tough sentences for criminals who are caught match fixing

• Governing body's security head says sentences 'too weak'
• More than 700 suspect football fixtures under investigation

Fifa has called for longer prison sentences for criminals involved in match-fixing after the EU intelligence-sharing agency Europol said more than 700 matches worldwide are suspected of having been manipulated.

Ralf Mutschke, Fifa's head of security and a former Interpol official, said: "Match-fixing and match-manipulation is a global problem and is not going to go away tomorrow." He argued that although "a member of the football family" can be given a life ban by Fifa, "for people outside of football, the custodial sentences are too weak, and offer little to deter someone from getting involved in match-fixing".

An unidentified European Champions League tie played in England "within the last three to four years" is one of the matches under investigation (Editor's note -Danish newspaper Ekstra Bladet reported it was Liverpool’s 1-0 win over the Hungarian team Debrecen in the 2009 Champions League group stage), Rob Wainwright, the director of Europol, said. While the "focus" of the investigation is not on England, Wainwright said: "Given the scale of corruption involved, it would be naive and complacent to think that the criminal conspiracy does not affect the English game."

The Football Association said that while it takes "matters of integrity in football extremely seriously", Europol had not informed the FA of its suspicions about the Champions League tie.

"The FA [is] not aware of any credible reports into suspicious Champions League fixtures in England, nor has any information been shared with us," an FA spokesman said.

More than 380 football matches in Europe are under investigation for match-fixing, Europol said, including top-flight domestic league matches and qualifiers in the European Championship and World Cup. In addition, some 300 matches in Africa, Asia, South and Central America are suspected of having been fixed by "an extensive criminal network".

Europol said 425 people from more than 15 countries are suspected of being involved in attempts to fix the 380 matches played at different levels of professional football across Europe. Those under suspicion include players, match officials, club staff and "serious criminals". Europol calculated that more than €8m (£6.8m) in betting profits had been corruptly made, with in excess of €2m in "corrupt payments" made to football people.

"This is a sad day for European football and more evidence of the corrupting influence in society of organised crime," Wainwright said. "This is match-fixing on a scale we've not seen before, involving hundreds of criminals and corrupted officials and players, affecting hundreds of professional matches and generating very large amounts of illicit profits. It is the work of a sophisticated international organised crime syndicate based in Asia and working with criminal facilitators around Europe."

Some of the cases have been prosecuted, while others remain the subject of continued investigation. Following an investigation by prosecutors in Bochum, Germany, 14 people were convicted of match-fixing, and received prison sentences totalling 39 years. Andreas Bachmann, of the Bochum prosecution service, said that 20 further arrest warrants have been issued, along with 86 search warrants for premises in the UK, Germany, Switzerland and Austria. He said the €2m Europol has calculated to have been paid in bribes should be assumed to be "only the tip of the iceberg".

Laszlo Angeli, from the central investigative chief prosecutor's office in Hungary, referred to a friendly between Argentina and Bolivia as one of the matches under suspicion.
Europol has had an investigation team, codenamed operation Veto, running since July 2011 to share information among EU countries, and is co-operating with Interpol for the matches under suspicion outside Europe. The agency alleges that the betting gangs are based in Asia – the Bochum investigation found the operation was run from Singapore – and associates were required to bribe the football people involved.

Investigations are also ongoing into alleged laundering of the proceeds in tax havens. "All those responsible for running football should heed the warnings," Wainwright said.

Fifa said that it is committed to tackling match-fixing, and aside from calling for tougher penalties also urged stronger co-operation between sporting bodies and law enforcement agencies.

Wainwright said he will be providing Michel Platini, the Uefa president, with details of the investigation, although Europol did not identify the allegedly suspicious Champions League tie, or any other match or person subject to investigation.

"Uefa is already co-operating with the authorities on these serious matters as part of its zero tolerance policy towards match-fixing," Uefa said.

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'Match-fixing is reality' says Burkina Faso coach banned in Belgium

Paul Put claims practice has always existed in football after Europol announces up to 380 matches are under suspicion
Paul Put Burkina Faso
Paul Put, Burkina Faso's head coach, served a three-year ban in Belgium after being found guilty of fixing two matches. Photograph: Armando Franca/AP
 
For Paul Put, the Belgian coach of Burkina Faso, the statement from Europol that it had found evidence that as many as 380 matches in Europe had been fixed came as no great surprise. He is one of the very few coaches to have been banned for fixing games, serving a three-year ban in Belgium that expired in 2011 after being found guilty of fixing two matches while manager of Lierse.

He remains adamant he was just a scapegoat and that the practice is widespread. "Match-fixing has always existed in football," Put says. "If you look at cycling, at Lance Armstrong, it's always him who is pointed at but everybody was taking drugs. It's not that I've been doing match-fixing, not at all, but it has been declared in the media like this. I also played football and I saw a lot of things. I don't think you can change it. It's unfortunate but I think in every sport you have to face those things. That is reality but what can you do about that?"

The Armstrong defence is unlikely to win Put much sympathy and it is not entirely clear whether he considers himself innocent of the charges or whether he simply regards it as unfair that he was punished when so many others who are allegedly guilty have not been.

"I accepted the ban because Fifa said I could work, so I didn't make any trouble in Belgium," he says.
Does he, then, view himself as a scapegoat? "Yes," the 56-year-old says. "It's the same like Lance Armstrong. It's the same. Everybody is pointing at Lance but without this he is the biggest champion. I don't think this is right. You have to see what's going on in football. There are a lot of big international players who are involved in match-fixing. I think it was worse in the past and these teams have survived."

What is known is that Lierse twice unexpectedly fielded reserve teams in Belgian top-flight league matches in 2005, seemingly as part of a match-fixing ring allegedly organised by the Chinese businessman Ye Zheyun. An international arrest warrant was issued against Ye in 2006 but he returned to China and denies all charges.

Lierse were the only club sanctioned and Put the only individual. Forty people, including Put, have been charged and face a criminal trial but that is unlikely to come to court for at least another two years.

"The suspension was a decision of the federation," Put says. "You always have to make an example for the whole world. We were all surprised because they took only one.

"You know there are more than 40 people. The whole of Belgian football was sick at that time. I was threatened by the mafia. My child was not safe. They threatened me with weapons and things like that. It's not nice to talk about these things but this is the reality."

So is he saying he was forced to fix games? "I was forced but 'fixing games' are big words," he says. "The team at that moment had nothing. It was in a very bad condition. There was no hope, no money, nothing.

"They made up a crazy story about match-fixing but other teams did the same. You have to see a lot of things and how it came about. It was not by our will. I am not a manager – just a coach.
"This is not a decision of a coach and a player. It is a whole team. If you want to fix a game you don't need 12 players. If you want to fix a game you can do it with one. That's what I don't understand – people didn't speak of the reality."

As the scandal broke, Put left Belgium and became the coach of Gambia, where he had significant success, taking them to a record high of 65 in the Fifa rankings. His achievements with Burkina Faso are even greater.

Apart from 1998 when they hosted the tournament, the Stallions had never progressed beyond the group stage of the Africa Cup of Nations but on Wednesday they face Ghana in the semi-finals, having gone 367 minutes in the tournament without conceding a goal.

Put regards their progress as some kind of redemption. "I have been working very hard," he says. "It was a very hard time for me and my family and my friends.

"If they point at you and you are the only one, it is hard. I've been fighting, fighting, working, working, day and night, and at least I now I have satisfaction."

He knows the route back to Belgium is probably closed forever, but Put dreams of better things. "My challenge," he says, "is to go to a big country with a big team and prove myself." What he has done with Burkina Faso will not clear his name but it may help people forget his past.

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