Monday, September 24, 2012

Crime syndicate targeted semi-pro Canadian Soccer League

Match fixing in soccer appears to be so rampant that even semi-pro teams in Canada are being targeted. Recent reports indicate that an international game-fixing syndicate infiltrated a lower league in Canada since nobody would suspect any illegal activity to be taking place. The criminal organization decided it would try fixing the outcome of games in the Canadian Soccer League (CSL) since it’s out of the spotlight and doesn’t attract many fans. The semi-pro league has teams based in the provinces of Quebec and Ontario.

According to reports, police had hundreds of hours wiretapping evidence that was produced during a court case in Germany last year which was focused on sports-fixing syndicates in Europe. Court was told that dozens of games around the world were manipulated. Many players and officials in the CSL said they were asked to fix games on a regular basis. A lawyer for one of the convicted criminals admitted that his client fixed a match in Canada and said it’s a lot easier to fix games in lower soccer leagues since there’s not much attention paid to them and there’s less control. He also stated that the players make less money so they’re more willing to take bribes.

In the CSL, some players make only approximately $5,000 for playing games on the weekends. One player said somebody at the stadium simply asked him if he wanted to make some extra money and it was a common occurrence. Gamblers found they could make easy money by betting on teams to win games as well as the total goals scored and things such as the number of yellow and red cards handed out by the referee.

Court was told that while the games might not attract much of an audience in Canada, they can still be bet on live and this is what interests gamblers in Europe, Asia, and other parts of the world. Wagers are taken on CSL games by many online betting sites and people can place up to about $180,000 on single games. Police wiretaps showed that a 2009 contest between Toronto Croatia and Trois-Rivières Attak was fixed.
Evidence showed that a man flew to Canada to organize the fix by offering a bribe of $18,000 to veteran player Antonijo Zupan, who was a former CSL All-Star who was playing for Toronto Croatia at the time. Zupan was supposed to share the money with some of his teammates to manipulate the game. A former Trois-Rivières player named Reda Aggouram said he remembers scoring a very easy goal in the game when the goaltender made a simple mistake.

The wiretap evidence showed that Zupan, along with four teammates, had agreed to make sure Toronto Croatia lost the match by a minimum of two goals so gamblers could cash their bets. Zupan had a chance to tie the game at 2-2 in the second half, but he missed a penalty kick. His team then went on to lose by a score of 4-1. Aggouram said he was surprised his team won by such a large margin as Toronto Croatia was one of the league’s top clubs.

Zupan said he doesn’t know why his name was mentioned in the wiretaps and denied taking any bribes. However, shortly after the game ended, the syndicate leaders were caught on wiretaps saying that they had been successful. The syndicate then planned on fixing more games in the CSL and even discussed entering a team in the league or buying one was the easiest possible way to fix games.

Vincent Ursini, chairman of the CSL, claimed that he didn’t know anything about match fixing, but asked FIFA to investigate the accusations.

Ian Palmer
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