Advertisement

No end in sight as match-fixing menace gains ground in Kenyan football

Tuesday March 03 2020
sindo_pix

Cash-strapped Kenyan Premier League clubs and money-hungry players have proven easy prey for match-fixers who lure them with lucrative offers but the national football team is not spared either. PHOTO | COURTESY |

By JEFF KINYANJUI

Nation Sport recently uncovered how a group of foreigners came into the country disguised as representatives of two multinational companies eager to establish a footprint in Kenya.

Part of their strategy was to sponsor local clubs. Kenyan Premier League (KPL) teams Sofapaka and Sony Sugar jumped at the opportunity.

There was a catch though. In both instances, Quantdragon Limited and Living 3D Holdings, which Nation Sport has established were run by the same people, had a clause in the contracts that allowed them to bring in several foreign players and technical staff into the two teams.

In the case of 2009 KPL champions Sofapaka, Living 3D Holdings brought in Portuguese national Divaldo Alves as a coach, replacing John Baraza.

Nation Sport has now established the 41-year-old coach has a history of manipulating matches and was banned for three months by the Lithuanian Football Federation for the same vice while coaching top-tier league team Pakruojis.

It was not by coincidence that Living 3D Holdings brought on board Alves to Sofapaka. He was in Kenya to help the team fix matches. Sofapaka registered one of its worst ever performances during his reign as coach and some of the matches during this period were reported to have suspicious betting patterns by international gambling monitoring experts.

Advertisement

Nation Sport has also established that Living 3D Holdings wanted Sofapaka to reschedule most of its matches from weekends to week days. This is captured in clause 4.3 of the contract signed by the two parties that is now in possession of Nation Sport.

“The club hereby agrees that it shall endeavour to its level best to reschedule matches from the weekend to week days, depending on their ability to do so. This is to provide mileage for sponsors as weekday fixtures draw more viewers than weekends …” the contract says in part.

KPL games have low viewership, especially on week days and this was a ploy by Living 3D Holdings and its representatives at Sofapaka to have safe play grounds to manipulate matches without attracting much attention that would raise eyebrows.

Clause 4.2 of the contract also indicates that Sofapaka, as part of its obligations to the sponsor, was to feature in two international friendly matches before the commencement of the league on August 2019, and also during the subsequent Fifa International match dates in the duration of the agreement. This never happened but it is clear that the contract was drawn to favour Living 3D Holdings’ match manipulation plans.

Through a working partnership with Zaihan Mohamed Yusof, a senior sports correspondent working for ''The Strait Times'' in Singapore, I have reliably established that Paolo Michael Pereira, the man who represented Living 3D Holdings in the contract signing and unveiling ceremony with Sofapaka, has ties with three known convicted Singaporean match fixers -- through his social media. They are Wilson Raj Perumal, Chann Sankaran and Titani Periasamy.

Paolo had been to Hungary in 2018 where Wilson Raj Perumal is currently living. He has lived in Budapest, Hungary, since 2012 to act as a prosecution witness in a match-fixing trial.

Interestingly, Nation Sport has reliably learnt that the broker of the deal between Sofapaka and Living 3D Holdings is a former Hungarian footballer, Mark Danyi, who had previously been sanctioned and was involved in the same match-fixing trial with Perumal. While link is by no way proof of collusion or match-fixing, it raises eyebrows.

“I have covered match-fixing for over a decade and I can confirm that nothing much has changed. Wilson, Chann and Titani are still at it and they try to cover it up by using proxies,” Zaihan told Nation Sport.

Kericho-based KPL team Zoo has also been a victim of alleged match manipulation by some of its players at some stage this season. The club managers got wind of the happenings and this led to a mass clear-out of players during the mid-season transfer window in January.

Out went Sammy Sindani, Martin Elungat, Norman Werunga and Kelvin Oduor. Johnstone Ligare, Dominic Okoth and goalkeeper Daniel Kiptoo had been released earlier. Most of those axed are said to have manipulated league matches involving the club.

“Zoo doesn’t pay the players much but we could see a sudden lifestyle change in the culprits. That raised suspicions and, after investigations within the club,, it was established they were fixing games,” a reliable source within the club, who requested anonymity because of the sensitivity of the matter, told Nation Sport.

The source also revealed that Living 3D Holdings had approached the club (Zoo) with the same offer they had tabled at Sofapaka -- a Sh36 million-a-season sponsorship -- that involved Living 3D Holdings coming on board with five foreign players and a coach, but it was turned down. Living 3D Holdings upped the offer to Sh100 million to take over the club but this, too, was turned down.

MANIPULATION

Wazito’s 4-1 win over Zoo on Sunday also witnessed some school boy howlers by goalkeepers from both ends. The match was flagged for possible manipulation by a reliable betting analyst in Europe.

The match-fixing cancer is so widespread in the league that it even involves some sports journalists, Nation Sport has learnt.

“I was approached by a journalist who was offering mouth-watering perks to me on condition that I would convince Zoo players to fix several games. He even warned me that even if I refused to take it up then the players would definitely do. That was enough proof that some players were manipulating matches in the team,” the source added.

“It came to my attention that some journalists purporting to be at work during local matches are actually helping match fixers. They have easy and direct access to the players and will, through signals as games proceed, instruct players, especially goalkeepers, when to let in a goal or defenders to commit fouls that would lead to situations that would influence the outcome of those particular matches,” the source added.

From Zoo to Chemelil, the vice continues. Goalkeeper Daniel Kiptoo has since joined Chemelil Sugar. Multiple sources confided in Nation Sport that he is at the centre of a closely-knit match-fixing cartel at the club that also involves several other players and a member of the technical staff.

“A day before our matches, he would receive large amounts of money to influence games and he had recruited some players within the team to the cartel and he openly conceded funny goals while his recruits, mostly defenders, committed silly mistakes in dangerous positions,” a former Chemelil Sugar player, who also sought anonymity, said.

“I raised the issue with the club management but, unfortunately, some officials were part of the scheme and therefore nothing much could be done. Despite the financial struggles at Chemelil Sugar, Kiptoo has become a man with deep pockets after a few months of playing for the team. He is now jokingly referred to by teammates as ‘tajiri’ (rich man),” the source added.

Several phone calls and a text message to Kiptoo to get his response on the allegations went unanswered.

Tusker goalkeeper Emery Mvuyekure also recently revealed how he was texted by a match fixer who promised him huge perks if he agreed to let in a specific number of goals during a league match. However, the Rwandan international turned down the offer.

Tusker FC coach Robert Matano says there is a need to have a clear legal framework to prosecute those trying to manipulate matches in Kenya.

“Fifa came all the way, did all the investigations and banned some Kenyan players. It is now up to the Kenyan authorities, and by that I mean the government, to take up the matter and convict them. Otherwise we will end up making match-fixing normal in Kenyan football since the culprits know nothing will happen in the long run even if their misdeeds are uncovered,” he said.

BIGGEST LOSERS

Gaming company SportPesa, who were the title sponsors of the Kenyan Premier League (KPL) until mid-last year, stopped offering local matches up for betting in their portal, a move many thought was as a result of suspected match-fixing. The company’s CEO Ronald Karauri says this was never the case.

“We were not aware nor did we suspect anything, but being the league title sponsor we decided it would be best for us not to offer the games on our website. The biggest misinformation that is usually spread is that betting companies can fix matches. The biggest loser when matches are fixed is the bookmaker, because it’s usually people trying to steal from the bookmaker,” Karauri told Nation Sport.

“For example, imagine Sofapaka playing Barcelona, the odds for Sofapaka to win could be 100 to 1. You can imagine what would happen if someone fixes the match. It means the odds are beaten and the bookmaker has to pay all the money. Bookmakers have business because of the unpredictability of games. If results can be predetermined, there is no betting business. That’s why bookmakers are the biggest losers if there is match fixing,” he added.

Karauri believes Football Kenya Federation (FKF) should take the lead in curbing the match-fixing menace.

“The federation should educate players on the risks. A player should understand that he risks losing his whole career over a single game. The federation is the first line of defence against match-fixing in football, and it should take that responsibility seriously. Betting companies can assist in providing information by looking at the trends and identifying suspect matches so that action can be taken,” he says.

FKF Chief Executive Officer Barry Otieno told Nation Sport that the federation is working closely with Fifa to prevent future incidents of match manipulation.

“We don’t have concrete leads of match-fixing as yet but after the media reports and the recent banning of several Kenyan players accused of manipulating games in the Kenyan Premier League (KPL), we are now working closely with Fifa to put in place measures to ensure we detect and prevent any match-fixing activities in Kenya. All this is intelligence-based. We, therefore, cannot reveal to the public the specifics of what we are doing,” Otieno said.

Reliable sources indicate that local players receive between Sh200,000 and Sh500,000 each just to manipulate the outcome of one game.

The targets are mainly defenders and goalkeepers, but some match officials are also linked to the vice. Most of the manipulated matches are normally offered for betting by gamblers with deep pockets, mostly in unregulated markets in Asia.

Global betting turnover is estimated to be around Sh90 million per KPL match.

Last month, world football governing body Fifa indicated that a number of matches in the 2019 Kenyan Premier League season were manipulated.

Consequently, Fifa banned Moses Chikati, Festus Okiring and Festo Omukoto, all Kenyans, from taking part in any kind of football-related activity at national and international level (administrative, sports or any other) for a period of four years.

Last year, former Kenyan international George Awino Audi was handed a 10-year ban by Fifa after he was found guilty of match-fixing.

The world football body also ordered the former Harambee Stars defender to pay a fine of CHF 15,000 (Sh1.5 million).

“Moreover, Kenyan player George Owino Audi has been banned from taking part in any kind of football-related activity at both national and international level (administrative, sports or any other) for a period of ten (10) years. In addition, a fine in the amount of CHF 15,000 has been imposed upon him,” the statement from Fifa read in part.

Owino is said to have been paid millions of shillings to throw away national team matches.

Advertisement