By Walter Broeckx
As we are in a dull period of the season with the international games having just ended, and the word corruption having been mentioned in an article I thought it could be interesting to have a look at a corruption scandal that took place in Belgium some 5 years ago. It involved Chinese betting syndicates and it was rather a big story in Belgium in those days.
The first signals from some match fixing in Belgium came from England. In the game St. Truiden – La Louviere the keeper of St. Truiden made some enormous mistakes and thus the final score of the game was 1-3.
The English company Betfair found it very suspicious that there had been an enormous amount of money been bet on this totally unimportant game and at this score. And when they discovered the fumbles made by the keeper they found it even more suspicious.
Then at the next game of St. Truiden, the team got many more bets than they normally get for a game in Belgium.
One of the main figures in this was a Chinese man named Ye Yeah. He was wandering from club to club in Belgium and presented himself as a Chinese businessman who wanted to invest some of his money in the club. Most of the clubs where he went threw him out but when he came to Lierse they were interested. Lierse was struggling to survive in the Jupiler League (the equivalent of the EPL) and had some serious financial troubles.
Another name that was mentioned was a players’ agent Pietro Allata, a person with an Italian background. Their names keep cropping up together through the whole case. At one time both pleaded innocent in the press and pointed at the other but they both said they knew nothing. They were like Manuel, from Barcelona. He also knew nothing. [That’s a Faulty Towers reference I think – ed]
The Belgium justice department is known throughout the world for the high speed at which they work (this is meant to be very very very sarcastic) and now after five years has come to the conclusion that 31 persons should be prosecuted. It includes the manager of Lierse, Paul Put, the keeper Cliff Mardulier and 8 other players of Lierse. And also players and persons from other clubs.
Now Lierse was not the only club involved as also other clubs have been named. Other clubs who played in the Jupiler League at that time with mostly, (if you live outside Belgium) unknown names like La Louviere, Mons, St. Truiden, AA Gent, Lokeren, FC Brussels. All have been named, because of players having accepted or having refused money to change match results.
In Belgium the FA has in its regulations a rule that says that if you get an offer and you refuse it you still have to tell this to the FA because if you don’t inform the Belgium FA you can get banned. Some players admitted afterwards that they had been offered money, refused it but didn’t inform the Belgium FA and they got fined for this. As a result it is thought that other players who might have thought about telling their story have remained silent and other possible scandals might have been brushed under the carpet.
The bribing of the players itself was done in some cases directly by Ye himself. And for the first games some players admitted they got 5,000 euro. And just a few weeks later they got 12,000 euro for the same thing. And at the end it could go up to 100,000 euro for fixing a single game. One player admitted that he had received a total of 140,500 euro. Now this might sound like peanuts to most of the players who play in England in the EPL but for players playing for the bottom clubs in Belgium this was a lot of money.
And for those gambling syndicates it was really peanuts as when, in 2005, such a gambling syndicate was discovered by the Chinese government and they had made a profit of some 27.000.000 euro IN ONE YEAR.
The players that were involved had been telling stories about their contacts with the Chinese gambling syndicate. They had been taken to a sex parties where pictures had been taken to put them under pressure. You can imagine that the player’s wife wasn’t invited to those sex parties… So blackmail became part of the operation.
And then when a player wanted to get out of the deal they used other means. This happened to the goalkeeper of Lierse who was blackmailed and then he didn’t feel good about it and wanted to get out. He then got a visit from some Chinese people who told him that if he wanted to get out he should have a good look at his baby every time he left the house because it always could be that it would be the last time he would see here alive. They got out their guns when talking to him – just to show they meant business. So very intimidating and this together with the blackmail it was enough to keep them under control.
Some players got banned for a period, the manager of Lierse got banned in Belgium, some players escaped punishment because they worked together with the investigation from the Belgium FA.
All this is based upon newspaper articles, TV programs and some information made available for the public by the justice department. But some people have the feeling that the Belgium FA and also the justice department have not been digging deep enough. Some clubs that were named had senior politicians involved on the board or as a big fan and some people suggest that some of those clubs were not really investigated.
The trial will have to start sometime but no one knows when this will be. Like I said our justice department has the speed of a snail or a turtle (whichever is the slowest). Announcing who they are going to prosecute after 5 years is one thing but to effectively start the trial will take maybe another few months if not years. By then the lawyers will claim that the normal time limits to have a justified and fair trial have been exceeded and maybe they all will get away with no punishment. This is something we are used to at times in Belgium, so not a big deal for us.
One person who will certainly get away with no real punishment will be the Chinese person Ye. He has left the country and is never seen again. Not that the justice department knows anyway. Like I said before he came to the clubs pretending he would invest or even buy the club but he wasn’t interested in buying the clubs. He was only interested in buying the results.
Now all of this could look as something from another country which has nothing to do with the EPL. But we all have heard about teams where they are possible new owners from the east. Clubs who have financial problems, just like most of the involved clubs in Belgium. And then suddenly a rich Chinese businessman comes over to buy the club. Just think about what happened in Belgium and it was not about buying a club but more about buying the results of the club.
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