Africa

Lesotho hit by match-fixing link

Thabang Matjama

Players and officials allegedly accepted large sums of money to throw a football match.

Wilson Raj Perumal, pictured here in 2011, is serving time in jail for bribing players. (AFP)

Lesotho could be the latest Southern African country to be embroiled in a match-fixing scandal. The Mail & Guardian has learnt that the Lesotho ­Football Association (LeFA) had contact with convicted match-fixer Wilson Raj Perumal just days before the ­Lesotho national team's allegedly rigged friendly match against Malaysia in Kuala Lumpur on ­September 11 2009.

When interviewed in January, LeFA secretary general Mokhosi Mohapi said he did not know if his association had ever been approached by Perumal, but said that it was its policy, in line with Fifa's recommendation, to deal with other associations rather than with agents.

However, a former LeFA driver, Likhetho Mokhathi, told the M&G that Mohapi sent him to meet Perumal in Pretoria days before the Kuala Lumpur match in 2009.

Speaking to the M&G in Maseru at the weekend, Mokhathi said: "Mohapi sent me to Pretoria to hand over a bundle of passports of officials to a guy who I met for the first time."

Though he did not remember the exact date, Mokhathi said he met "an Indian-looking man'' at a train ­station in Pretoria and handed him the passports.

The man introduced himself as Raj Perumal and gave Mokhathi a business card inscribed with his name. The card, now in the M&G's possession, also displays Perumal's company name, Worldwide Sports International, and bears the physical address of his base in Bukit Batok,  Singapore.

Bribing players
Perumal is cited in a Fifa report on the South African Football Association as the face of Football4U, another front for the worldwide ­betting syndicate that allegedly fixed the South African national team's matches ahead of the 2010 Fifa World Cup.

Perumal is serving a three-year jail term for bribing players in the Finnish league in February 2011.

Mokhathi, who was fired by LeFA in 2012, said the passports he handed over included that of LeFA vice-­president Khiba Mohoanyane, who travelled with the national team as team manager.

The Lesotho Football Supporters Association has alleged that Lesotho officials and players were paid huge sums of money to throw the Kuala Lumpur match, which Lesotho lost 5-0. The supporters asked the ­government to investigate, but no probe took place.

The 2009 trip was the Lesotho national team's second to Malaysia.

In August 2007, the team took part in the Merdeka Tournament, which included hosts Malaysia and lesser-known football nations Burma and Laos. Lesotho's first game of that tournament, which it won 3-1, was against Laos.

A former Lesotho player who asked to remain anonymous told the M&G that the organisers paid players $3 000 "as allowances".

Global corruption
The Football Association of Malaysia could not provide details of who organised the 2007 and 2009 matches. "I am new in the organisation, so I don't know anything," said an official in the association's international department.

The Zimbabwe national football team took part in the Merdeka Tournament in 2007 before the Asiagate scandal broke.

It was found that the Zimbabwe Warriors were involved in match fixing following cash payouts to players. Ernest Sibanda, who was then in charge of the team, told the Zimbabwean investigating committee in 2012 that they were met by Perumal in Singapore on their way to Malaysia for the Merdeka Tournament.

"During our first match, we were paid money at half-time when we were actually losing 0-2," Sibanda said. "We were told to concede another two goals in the second half. We were, by then, $1–000 richer each.

"After the game, the players were paid $1–000 each, and the technical team $1–400 each. This was irresis-tible due to the financial meltdown in Zimbabwe."

Europol, the European Union's law enforcement agency that handles criminal intelligence in Europe, last month announced it had uncovered corruption in 680 football matches across the globe.

LeFA's Mohapi could not be contacted this week for his reaction to Mokhathi's claims. In the January interview, however, he said he assumed the Lesotho side had been invited by the Malaysian association and that it had appointed the ­referee. "We try to avoid dealing with agents," he said.

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The M&G Centre for Investigative Journalism (amaBhungane) produced this story. All views are ours. See www.amabhungane.co.za for our stories, activities and funding sources.

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