All the world is staged
Brett Forrest
August 15, 2012
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to play a full-time role at the 2010 World Cup in South Africa, which officials feared could be derailed by a terrorist act or the fixing of the final game. When the tournament ended without a hitch, Eaton became FIFA's official head of security, tasked with creating a new division to address match fixing. "FIFA needed someone like Chris, who has credibility worldwide for speaking the truth and who isn't afraid to confront it," says Ronald Noble, secretary general of Interpol.

Beginning his new challenge, Eaton assembled a group of investigators, cops like himself, choosing his subordinates for their "high energy and high criminal hatred." He stationed them around the globe with free rein to operate in a "decentralized, bloody active way."

Eaton's operatives cultivated sources who eventually led them to a syndicate in Singapore. They slowly uncovered how deeply fixers like Perumal had infiltrated the game. "They had stopped fixing matches and started fixing people," says Eaton.

According to Eaton's investigators, Perumal had perfected his scheme in the late '90s in Ghana and Zimbabwe. His goal was not just to bribe individual players but to dupe entire federations. Representing front companies with names like Footy Media and Football4U, Perumal would approach federation officials as a promoter who negotiated friendlies between national teams. "Most football associations are broke," Perumal would later write to Singaporean journalist Zaihan Mohamed Yusof from Finnish prison. "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."

As his network grew, Perumal signed legitimate contracts with national federations in countries unaware of who he really was, such as Bolivia and South Africa, paying them as much as $100,000 to arrange their friendlies, often pairing them against higher-profile teams that were just looking for ready-made exhibitions. Perumal would set up the matches, promote them -- and select the referees. Many friendlies go off without FIFA sanctioning, so often all a fixer like Perumal needed to do to stage an international friendly was find a stadium and pay a day's rent.

The matchups would attract the attention of bookmakers and the international betting market -- if also a curious amount of red cards, penalty kicks and offside calls. FIFA paid refs only $350 per match, almost inviting the fix. "Every member association is responsible for organizing and supervising football in its country," says FIFA spokesman Wolfgang Resch. "The control of referees and officials falls into it."

Paying off refs was one way to manipulate results, but to achieve what fixers call a "five-star fix," Perumal also needed to compromise players and coaches. In doing so, he styled himself as soccer's Robin Hood, paying upward of $5,000 per fix to players in Africa, Central America and the Middle East, whose salaries barely fed their families. "The players I knew were living in atrocious conditions," Perumal wrote. "Within six months their lives took a 360 [sic] turn." Perumal embedded himself in professional leagues outside the global eye, becoming so well connected that, according to a source in Singapore, he would field calls from coaches on the sidelines during games. Perumal boasted that he was "in better control of the Syrian football league than Assad was over his people."

Facing a criminal conspiracy that operated in African villages and Middle Eastern locker rooms, Eaton decided that he needed to take a proactive "counterterrorism approach." But when he introduced two initiatives -- a whistleblower's hotline and amnesty for anyone who confessed to rigging a game -- FIFA shelved them almost immediately.

Like the NCAA, FIFA is set up as a nonprofit organization that oversees teams, institutions and various leagues but has limited power to police them. The organization pays no taxes, and it earns $1 billion in annual revenue. There is little incentive to look below the surface. "Since FIFA has jurisdiction only over persons affiliated with FIFA, it will never be possible to control parties outside the current system," says FIFA's Resch.

At every opportunity, FIFA president Sepp Blatter professes a commitment to rooting out match fixing, and the organization has made positive strides, chiefly with its proprietary Early Warning System, which monitors live betting. But Eaton found his hands increasingly tied. "Chris' approach is holistic," says Noble, his former colleague at Interpol. "He wants a FIFA witness protection program and a FIFA jump team to be ready to fly to any location at any time to conduct intensive match-fixing investigations. But these things just aren't possible for nonpolice institutions like FIFA."

Says Eaton: "This is the average person's game worldwide, so it must be a model. The issue is governance. Is this a business with a little governance? Or is it governance with a little bit of business?"

IN SINGAPORE, match fixing grew into its own tightly governed enterprise. Based on extensive interviews with Eaton's team and syndicate sources in Asia, this much is known: The syndicate is run by four bosses -- led by a man named Dan Tan Seet Eng -- whose legitimate businesses enable them to fund the payouts and travel expenses that fixers require to execute a scheme. Once the match is fixed, the Chinese triads use betting sweatshops across Southeast Asia in which rows of workers sit in front of computers placing $3,000 bets as fast as their fingers can type. The wagers are purposely small and spread on enough credit cards to avoid detection by bookmakers.

The bosses often work in concert, employing the hawala system, a clandestine credit structure that international organized crime groups use to move money among one another without a trace. As the syndicate's dealings have grown, so have its connections with criminal organizations in other countries, such as Italy, Hungary, Croatia and Bulgaria.

Largely unpoliced, the Singapore syndicate became increasingly brazen, never more so than in the staging of ghost matches like the suspected one between the U21 teams from Turkmenistan and Maldives. Since federations, and not FIFA, announce friendlies, bookies employ local "spotters" to troll for information about upcoming matches. These spotters are corrupted by the syndicate to con bookies into listing fabricated matches. The spotters then supply the bookies with in-game dispatches -- on matches that aren't actually happening.

FOR WILSON RAJ PERUMAL fixing matches was getting a bit too easy. As he slipped in and out of locker rooms with impunity, he started to lose the thrill. So he developed a gambling habit of his own, laying bets on the Chicago Bulls, on Manchester United -- clubs he knew were legitimate. But as it turned out, he wasn't...
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