A Singapore man, Wilson Raj Perumal, has been sentenced to two years in jail for bribing football (soccer) players in the Finnish football league, as international match-fixing scandals continue to spread and investigators point to organized crime networks based in Southeast Asia.
Described as “humble”, “polite” and “smartly dressed”, the 45-year-old did nothing to alert the suspicion of his landlord, his neighbours or many of his friends during his seven-month stay in London.
But the quiet Singaporean was in fact Wilson Raj Perumal, a convicted match-fixer on the run from the police, who was busily masterminding an international empire from his one-bedroom flat in the shadow of Wembley Stadium.
Perumal arrived in London in July after skipping bail in Singapore on charges of hitting a police officer with his car. He rented a flat under a pseudonym, Rajamohan Chelliah, and paid six months’ rent up front to compensate for being unable to provide any references.
Duly satisfied, the landlord did not probe any deeper into his tenant’s past. If he had, he would have discovered 13 convictions for forgery, assault, burglary and match-fixing dating back to 1983.
Perumal, a member of Singapore’s Tamil minority, soon became involved in Wembley’s lively Sri Lankan community and paid a satellite engineer to install Tamil cable channels at his flat.
It was only when he disappeared in February that those who knew him became suspicious.
Perumal had travelled to Finland, where he was arrested on February 25. He is being held on suspicion of bribing 11 players to manipulate matches in the Finnish leagues.
Tuesday’s verdict in Helsinki against Wilson Raj Perumal and nine Finnish players is the latest example of what investigators say is the far-reaching influence of crime syndicates based in Singapore, Malaysia and elsewhere in Asia.
The security director for football’s international governing body FIFA told the Associated Press that the case marks a breakthrough in the global fight against match fixing. He said information provided by Perumal has helped “piece together” evidence of conspiracies to fix matches in Africa, eastern Europe and Central and South America.
A court statement said Perumal’s scam involved bribing seven Zambian and two Georgian players — all of whom played in the Finnish league. It also noted his cooperation with investigators.
In May, FIFA signed a $20 million landmark deal with Interpol creating an investigative unit based in Singapore to root out game rigging in Asia.
In an analysis this week, the New York Times lists key investigations underway worldwide — including a South Korean probe involving 55 players indicted since June in the country’s largest ever game-fixing scandal. Ten of the players received lifetime bans.
In Turkey, more than 30 players, coaches and club officials were jailed last week on game-fixing charges. One club said last week it would return the 2010 Turkish Cup until its deputy chairman and coach are cleared of charges they fixed the tournament’s final match and other games.
The Zimbabwe Football Association released a report last week detailing game fixing from 2007 to 2010, in which players on tour were allegedly paid $1,000 a game to lose by pre-arranged scores.
Analysts say the scandals in East Asia are becoming so pervasive they are eroding fan support in Malaysia, Thailand, Hong Kong and Vietnam, as well as South Korea and China.