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FIFA to protect witnesses in fight against match-fixing by organized crime

01/10/2012 09:51 EST | Updated 03/11/2012 05:12 EDT
ZURICH - FIFA has pledged to protect witnesses who report match-fixing plots by organized crime syndicates, as football's world governing body launched a year-long campaign against corruption on Tuesday.

Security director Chris Eaton said FIFA will look after whistleblowers who contact a hotline which opens next month.

"Players are living in fear in many countries," Eaton told reporters. "If they come forward and have valuable information ... they will be protected. I have that commitment from FIFA."

Eaton said FIFA has "anecdotal evidence" that players have been killed by crime syndicates to defend their multi-billion dollar business, and is monitoring worldwide reports of intimidation to co-operate with betting scams.

The former Interpol official says FIFA's latest campaign against match-fixing depends on players, referees and administrators reporting attempts to corrupt them.

A hotline and website, run independently of FIFA, will offer whistleblowers help in 180 languages and operate from Feb. 1 until the end of the year.

FIFA will offer a plea-bargaining amnesty for just three months to those reporting their own involvement in fixing scams.

"We are providing them with someone to go to," Eaton said.

FIFA has been encouraged by the example of Italian defender Simone Farina, who informed law enforcement authorities that he was offered 200,000 euros (US$256,000) last year to help fix a second-tier match involving his club Gubbio.

"He resisted and rejected a corrupting offer, but more importantly he reported it," Eaton said.

Farina was appointed a FIFA fair play ambassador by its president Sepp Blatter on Monday.

A former detective from Australia, Eaton has led FIFA's response after a series of scandals exposed the extent of match-fixing involving national leagues and international friendly matches handled by corrupt referees.

Eaton and his team of investigators based in London, Colombia, Malaysia and Jordan travelled to 60 countries last year following a trail of cases linked to southeast Asian fixers and illegal gambling operations.

FIFA estimates that fixers make between $5 billion and $15 billion in profit each year from manipulating matches across all sports, which attract $500 billion in wagers with legal and unlicensed operators.

"The money generated is enormous, truly staggering," said Eaton, warning that crime syndicates use their profits to increase their power and influence.

FIFA got its breakthrough against match-fixing last February when Singaporean businessman Wilson Perumal was arrested in Finland, where he fixed league matches.

A double-header of international friendlies played in neutral Antalya, Turkey, had also exposed a model of fixing where corrupt referees awarded dubious penalties to fulfil bets on how many goals would be scored.

Perumal got a two-year prison sentence, and evidence gathered in the case led Eaton's team toward his network of contacts across world football.

Eaton released redacted documents from the Perumal dossier Tuesday, including email exchanges with senior football officials.

Perumal promised to pay one unidentified official $100,000, with a promise of $500,000 from future matches.

In emails, Perumal asks one official to find an under-21 team to play a fixed match, and insists that a match must be intentionally lost.

"Please don't make my life difficult by saying you want to win," the Singaporean businessman wrote. "Trust me, there is good money to be made."

In written documents, Perumal said "most Football Associations are broke" and, when offered the chance to play an all-expenses friendly, "welcome you with open arms."

Perumal also questioned how FIFA could stop match-fixing.

"If the parent body is corrupt, how is it going to eradicate corruption in football?" he wrote in documents released by FIFA.

FIFA's campaign coincides with hundreds of qualifying matches being played this year for its showpiece event, the 2014 World Cup.

Eaton and his team investigated reports of fixed matches at the 2011 CONCACAF Gold Cup, and will monitor the 16-country African Cup of Nations, which kicks off in Equatorial Guinea and Gabon on Jan. 21.

"We have no information about that tournament at the moment, but we are looking at it," he said.

Eaton is also trying to talk to Niger referee Ibrahim Chaibou, whose handling of international friendlies — including in South Africa, Bolivia and Nigeria — has attracted widespread suspicion.

"I have tried to meet with him several times, but he has resisted," Eaton said. "We are closely monitoring his continuing role in football."

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