All the world is staged
Brett Forrest
August 15, 2012
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nearly as good at betting games as he was at fixing them. In one three-month period, according to an investigator on Eaton's team, Perumal lost roughly $10 million.

To recover some of his losses, he decided to short the syndicate. Instead of fixing a match, he would keep the $500,000 that the bosses had forwarded to him to set it up, hoping the right team would win legitimately and by the proper score. Before long, Perumal was in deep, owing $1 million to one boss, $500,000 to another and $1.5 million to someone else, according to FIFA sources. He got desperate, and he became sloppy. He allowed impostors to pose as the Togo national team and play a friendly at Bahrain on Sept. 7, 2010. It was so obvious -- Bahrain's then-head coach, Josef Hickersberger, said afterward that the Togo team was "not fit enough to play 90 minutes" -- that the ensuing media coverage drew attention to a possible fix.

A few months later, Perumal was in Finland -- where he had been running fixes with the Rovaniemi team since at least 2009 -- overseeing a planned deal on behalf of Dan Tan. The club had generated so much cash flow over the years that Dan Tan decided to buy it to guarantee continued income. Still needing funds to cover his gambling, Perumal sabotaged the purchase. The Finnish owners agreed to sell the club for $500,000, but Perumal handed them only $200,000, keeping the rest for himself. Several angry phone calls between Rovaniemi officials and the Singapore bosses quickly revealed where the missing $300,000 had gone.

Perumal was too intertwined with Rovaniemi, which was a cash cow, for Dan Tan to completely cut him loose. But even before the sale fell through, the bosses had called meetings with Perumal's principal lieutenants, Danny Jay Prakash and Anthony Santia Raj. They said Perumal's ego was out of control. He had even created a Facebook page, which included pictures of himself with players and contact information of European criminal colleagues. In a business based on betting, Perumal's own gambling had compromised his credibility.

While Perumal's reputation was rapidly deteriorating, his lieutenant Santia Raj was staging the biggest fix of his career, two friendlies in the seaside resort town of Antalya, Turkey: Latvia vs. Bolivia and Estonia vs. Bulgaria. What Santia Raj didn't know was that the games were under suspicion before they began. Janis Mezeckis, the general secretary of the Latvian Football Federation, was concerned about the way Santia Raj had assigned the referees; the inexperienced fixer had refused to name the refs before the day of the match. Mezeckis contacted FIFA. Chris Eaton in turn alerted Sportradar, a gambling watchdog group based in London whose clientele includes FIFA, UEFA and the national federations of Germany, France and the Czech Republic. The noose was tightening.

Sportradar monitors 300 gambling sites worldwide, using proprietary algorithms to identify abnormal activity in the market. As the Sportradar staff watched events in Antalya, the in-game betting for each game behaved identically. "There was severe support for more than three goals in both games," says Darren Small, COO of Sportradar. "It was nowhere near logical, with about 5 million euros bet per match."

The fix in Antalya revealed the artless contempt that the Singapore syndicate had for international soccer. The games generated seven goals in total, all scored on penalty kicks. After a Latvian player missed one penalty, the referee ordered that it be retaken.

Following the Antalya matches, FIFA contacted Santia Raj by email through his front company. Dan Tan and the bosses started to believe that Perumal had tipped off FIFA. That's when Dan Tan authorized Santia Raj to hand Perumal over to the police. Santia Raj sent a low-level runner to Rovaniemi, where he walked into the police station and ended Perumal's match-fixing career.

With evidence mounting in Finnish court and with his anger building over his treatment by the syndicate, Perumal began cooperating with authorities. He provided match-fixing secrets that prompted an Italian court to indict Dan Tan in December 2011. Perumal served one year in Finnish prison and was released in February. But he was promptly turned over to authorities in Hungary, the next in a line of EU countries that want Perumal on match-fixing charges. Perumal is now in protective custody in a safe house in Budapest, where, sources say, he is delineating the syndicate's operation and its connections with European criminal groups.

Eaton, meanwhile, won't be at FIFA to see how it all plays out. After two years at his post, he officially left FIFA on May 1 to take a similar job with the International Centre for Sport Security, a well-funded Qatar-based watchdog group.

At the bar in Manchester's Radisson Edwardian Hotel after a day at SoccerEx, Eaton looks relieved to be moving on. "FIFA is on a steep learning curve about the realities of the infiltration of organized crime for the purpose of betting fraud," he says.

Eaton leans over the bar and orders another pint. Scattered about the room are various influential figures of the soccer world, also in town for SoccerEx. Periodically they turn in Eaton's direction, the Australian cowboy in their midst, then turn back toward one another with wry smiles. Eaton either doesn't see or doesn't care. He latches onto his beer. "The business of football has become so large, it drowns the sportsmanship," he says. "That's why when you dig deeply into the football world, you make people uncomfortable."

Perumal is not one of those people. "I would have admired if the enemy had brought the sword to my heart instead of my back," he wrote after his arrest.

He still may get his wish. After all, Perumal has a whole new list of enemies. Back in Singapore, a former colleague issues a warning. "Protective custody," sneers one of the biggest match fixers in the world. "Fifteen minutes alone, he walks to the bathroom, he's dead. It's easy. They offered to pay me $300,000 to go to Hungary and sit on a roof with the sniper to identify him."

Yet Perumal is still a gambler. As he wrote from prison: "I hold the key to the Pandora's box. And I will not hesitate to unlock it."

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