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Wednesday, Jun 18, 2014

Singapore

How a kelong king was dethroned...by a cat

The New Paper | Wednesday, Jun 18, 2014

Zaihan Mohamed Yusof, The New Paper journalist. He wrote the book ‘FOUL! The Inside Story Of Singapore Match Fixers’ which offers an insightful look into the world of match-fixing.

In mid-2013, I was shown the initial stages of the investigations that had linked one of the two arrested men to Wilson Raj Perumal.

All it took was a laptop to gain entry into the syndicate's inner circle, said an investigator from SI Sports Intelligence (SI).

The syndicate had been communicating via social media using aliases to make it difficult for investigators to know their real identities, but little did the match-fixers know that their circle had been infiltrated.

"It (took) just one click (of the mouse) and I was in," said the investigator. "I became their friend."

It appeared that the cat was let out of the bag. In the case of the private investigations of anti-sports fraud agency SI, a cat aroused unwanted attention that eventually led to the downfall of a Singapore-linked match-fixing syndicate in the UK in November 2013.

Yes, a cat. I know it is hard to believe, but it is true.

The syndicate, spearheaded by Wilson Raj Perumal, is probably one of the more prominent match-fixing syndicates to have been exposed thus far.

It had links not only to an attempted fix during the 2013 South-east Asian Games in Myanmar, but also to the Australian football scandal that involved a club in Victoria, as well as the 2010 World Cup warm-up matches.

CHARGED

In November 2013, two Singaporean men - one of whom was Sam (not his real name) - were charged by British authorities with conspiring to defraud bookmakers by influencing the course of matches in the Conference League and placing bets on them.

The following month, two footballers were charged in connection with the attempted fix.

What is less known was that SI had commenced its own investigations seven months prior to the arrests.

As the investigations matured, they reached a juncture where it was crucial to let the police take over.

"We know we are not police," said Terry Steans, a partner at SI. "We do not have the support and resources they do and it's only right that police deal with criminality."

Added Steans: "We knew that the point would come when we needed to hand this to the police. Our only problem was - which police force?"

The Singapore match-fixing syndicate had offered football matches in various countries, including international friendlies and lower league club games.

As The New Paper understands, given that the syndicate chose Britain as their next target, SI deemed the British police force as the most appropriate authority to handle the situation.

Two weeks before the end of their probe, SI roped in The Daily Telegraph. The newspaper had agreed to foot the sum of €60,000 (S$101,600) demanded by the fixer in order to catch him in action and video record the meeting in secret. Here was how it all transpired.

While they were studying Singapore match-fixing syndicates, SI investigators were also trawling for information online as they scrutinised all possible links to Wilson Raj.

CUSTODY

By then, he had been placed under protective custody in Hungary in 2012 after spending a year in jail in Finland for bribery and travelling on forged travel documents.

The SI investigator - or "kelong hunter" as I have dubbed him - wanted to find out who Wilson Raj's friends were, in order to map out and identify possible associates of his who were active in match fixing.

On Feb 25, 2013, the SI investigator learnt of Wilson Raj's second Facebook account that he kept separate from his personal one. This other Facebook account had a pseudonym of a famous Argentinian football player.

By scouring through and keeping tabs on this account, the SI investigator finally hit jackpot when a seemingly innocent posting caught his attention.

Someone had published a photograph of a cat on one of his Facebook wall posts.

The photo of the adorable-looking cat elicited several comments from Wilson Raj's friends.

One of those comments led SI to Sam, the Singaporean currently at the centre of a major UK match-fixing investigation, which eventually resulted in the arrest of seven other men in November 2013.

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