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Referee! How Wilson Raj Perumal made football pay the penalty

By Don Riddell and Matthew Knight, CNN
updated 11:09 AM EDT, Thu August 28, 2014
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • Convicted match fixer, Wilson Raj Perumal says a referee from Niger was "the best"
  • Ibrahim Chaibou officiated in a World Cup warm-up awarding dubious penalties
  • Asia-based syndicate famously bribed referees for a mini-tournament in Turkey in 2011
  • Former FIFA investigator says referees may need more protection against match fixers

(CNN) -- Who'd be a referee? When the crowd aren't getting on your back you've got the players acting up or giving you an earful.

So if someone described your refereeing as "the best," you could be forgiven for feeling a small surge of pride. But when the person praising you has been called the world's most notorious match fixer, then it's time to show yourself a red card.

Wilson Raj Perumal says he corrupted many football players and officials during a long criminal career, but there is one person who stands out from the crowd. His name was Ibrahim Chaibou, a referee from Niger.

"He was the best, he was the best, but not from FIFA's point of view," Perumal told CNN during a wide-ranging television interview about his match-fixing days.

Perfect partner

The Singaporean, who is now helping European police with match-fixing investigations, claims to have rigged the results of up to 100 matches over a 20-year period, boasting of a 70-80% success rate.

Chaibou, who he describes as "very bold," became one of his favourite match officials.

According to Perumal, the referee's first match fix was an international friendly between South Africa and Guatemala in May 2010 -- one of several warm-up matches played ahead of the 2010 World Cup which the Rainbow Nation hosted.

Watching highlights of the game on YouTube, Perumal gives a running commentary on the major incidents.

In his own words: The man who fixed football
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"It's crazy," Perumal says as Chaibou awards South Africa a penalty kick. The quality of the footage is poor, but the fixer knows what happened.

"This is not a penalty. The offence took place outside the box," he says.

The man from Niger is allegedly at it again in the second half, this time awarding Guatemala a penalty for a handball. Replays show the ball striking a South African player's chest.

Chaibou awarded three penalties in all during the match and, according to Perumal, fulfilled his task of overseeing a high-scoring fixture. The game finished 5-0 to South Africa.

"We paid him very good money," Perumal says.

Elaborate scheme

Perumal says getting Chaibou onto the pitch was the result of an elaborate scheme where the match-fixer used his now-defunct company 'Football 4 U International' to target the South African Football Association (SAFA).

"I had this idea to influence the warm-up games without the knowledge of the association concerned.

"So I remember writing a formal letter to the association requesting that my company 'Football 4 U' supply referees from Africa at our expense," Perumal explains.

Supplying referees in this way is a breach of FIFA rules, but Perumal's idea was accepted.

"It is clear that the convicted criminal and football match-fixer, Wilson Raj Perumal, was involved in convincing SAFA to agree to a company then managed by him [Football4U] to select, fund and appoint referees," said a FIFA statement in March 2012.

"He was the best, he was the best, but not from FIFA's point of view
Wilson Raj Perumal

FIFA also had act over a mini tournament in Antalya, Turkey in February 2011.

Fixers at an Asian-based syndicate approached the Football Associations of Bolivia, Bulgaria, Latvia and Estonia inviting them to an all-expenses paid event. But they were all duped, because the referees had allegedly been paid to fix the results.

Terry Steans, a FIFA investigator between 2010 and 2012, recalls the set up.

"It involved four international teams and an empty stadium, no ticket sales and yet the game was (open) for betting," Steans explains.

"I sat and watched match fixers with a briefcase full of cash to pay the referees."

Seven goals were scored in the two matches played -- all of them from the penalty spot.

"I think that's the most shocking for me to see a fixing syndicate in total control of two international friendlies, played in the same stadium to no crowd at all. It's eerie, absolutely eerie," Steans said.

FIFA handed down life bans for the six match officials who Perumal says were targeted by his former associates in Singapore.

Paying the penalty

Perumal insists he wasn't involved in the Turkey scandal -- one of the most notorious and brazen match fixes of recent times -- but his fingerprints were clearly all over the warm-up matches in South Africa.

A FIFA report, seen by CNN, concluded that the match involving Chaibou was "manipulated for betting fraud purposes" and noted that "several SAFA members were either easily duped or extremely foolish" when organizing the games.

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Chaibou continued officiating into 2011, notably taking charge of an international friendly match between Nigeria and Argentina in Abuja in June that year.

Nigeria played a match against a second-string Argentina side -- a surprising detail in itself, but what caught the eye was how the match ended.

When 90 minutes of regulation play was over, Nigeria was leading 4-0. Four or five minutes were due to be added for injury time, but the score remained the same. Chaibou kept the match going.

In the 98th minute he awarded a penalty to Argentina for a handball that replays show never happened. Argentina converted the penalty and the match ended 4-1.

Analysis of betting patterns by FIFA revealed a surge in bets for a fifth goal to be scored.

Chaibou, who retired from refereeing before FIFA could take disciplinary action, denies fixing matches, but isn't saying much more.

When contacted by CNN, the former referee said: "I have put an end to my career and everything is finished." He added: "What is past is past."

For what it's worth, Perumal thinks referees should be paid more.

"They get about $1,000 or maybe $1,500 (per game) which is very small money. In my opinion, FIFA should pay them a lot more or they should start to professionalize this officiating."

When asked about the payment of referees, FIFA told CNN: "Corruption does not depend on how much you are paid, but instead, and above all, honesty and values of the individual."

Steans says the time may have come to protect referees from the fixers.

"When you're on your own it's very difficult to turn down two or three guys that are pressuring you," he says.

"It's the easiest thing in the world to write a manual and say this is how you should react. In the real world, it's a difficult thing in isolation to do for a referee. So they're vulnerable and I feel they'd need more protection."

Read more: The man who fixed football matches

Read more: How much of a fix is football in?

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