Corruption on the soccer fields, selling of games by players, paying bribes, the underground world and criminal entities – an experienced private investigator (and former senior police officer) responds to these phenomena and provides recommendations for
Soccer Corruption
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Soccer Corruption


Israeli soccer corruption has reared its head and arose once again to the agenda of the Israeli public. This time a red flag was raised by the sports channel, which revealed the affair and forced the combined efforts of the Soccer Union and the Israeli Police to begin an immediate investigation.

Three years ago, the army radio station very publicly revealed the incident in which umpires were accepting bribes. The affair was immediately nicknamed “Umpires in Red” and concluded with the suspension and incarceration of the judges who were found guilty by the court. These incidents (along with many others that have not yet been revealed) are only the tip of the iceberg with regards to the conspiring activities of the illegal gambling industry, which has taken hold of the soccer fields. 

Toto or illegal gambling?

When the first prize award of the Toto stands at tens of millions of shekels, innocent and legal gamblers will invest a great deal of money in buying tickets in order to increase their chances of winning. Large sums of money drive everyone crazy - good people and bad people alike. There are the good gamblers, the addicts, who will invest all the money that they don’t have on a weekly basis. The thrill and the adrenalin rush are what the addicted gambler craves, as he visits the Toto ticket stations every week.

As opposed to the good gamblers, the “bad” gamblers don’t fill out tickets at the Toto stations. They don’t invest their hard earned pay. They don’t work shifts at the “Off Tov” frozen foods factory. They are members of the crime families or criminal gangs who have joined together in order to collect the big prize for gambling on soccer games. 

Their “sports” investment is based on locating players from soccer teams that appear in the gambling tickets, who have personal and financial weak points. They collect focused information. They use personal sources that have access to the target player. They have patience. They think long term. 

They reap the benefits of their investment when the bribed goalie lets a ball pass in between his legs and hit the net, one game. In another game on the Toto sport tickets, the left defense player purposefully obstructs the right forward player of the opposing team. The umpire, as expected, unhesitatingly blows his whistle and declares a penalty kick.

As opposed to gambling in the National Lottery, where the number balls are selected by a machine, in soccer games the results of a game are determined by a human element, the player. Everyone knows this, including those who deal in and operate illegal gambling. 

The games result exactly the way the criminal gamblers have predicted in their Toto tickets. The big prize is theirs. The legal gamblers get through another week of anger and frustration, and begin a new week of illusions. The criminals don’t have this dilemma. Their fields only have winners.

The scores are known in advance. No one better break the rules and open their mouths, otherwise their knees might meet a baseball bat. Their career would be in clear and immediate danger. The fear is paralyzing. They have already been caught in the honey trap set by the criminal gamblers. 

The good gamblers from the general public know how the gambling industry works and operates. They’re afraid to open their mouths. Why get in trouble? Who would protect them, the media? The Israeli Police? The witness protection program? No.

Legal gamblers are not the only ones to be financially and personally affected by the illegal gambling industry. The spectators at homes and the fans in the stadiums are also victimized by the soccer corruption stemming from illegal gambling. Soccer spectators, either at home or in the stadiums, can no longer be certain that a scored goal was the result of pure athletic ability. They no longer trust the player or the goalie.

Everyone is marked as a game seller. There is no more pleasure in the most popular game in the world.  Without pleasure, people don’t come to the stadiums. They don’t buy tickets.  An audience does not come to watch a “fixed” game. Sports channel ratings are in a decline. The financial and commercial damage may be irreversible.  Without fans, there’s no soccer.  Without spectators, the ratings are low and there are no advertisers.

We Are Not Alone

The problem of soccer corruption due to illegal gambling is not a problem faced solely by the state of Israel.  This is neither comforting nor encouraging. It is advisable, of course, to take an example from civilized countries that have not been affected by soccer corruption. There are very few of these. Regardless, it is advisable to familiarize ourselves and remember a few events that are similar to the corruption chronicles that have plagued us.  So here we go: 

The freshest and most memorable episode, of course, occurred at the end of last season in the Italian League when Juventus, Milan, Regina, Fiorentina, and Lazio were all accused of affecting their choice of umpires. Juventus was demoted to the junior league. The other teams suffered a reduction in their point ratings and financial fines. In Italy, the team managers were corrupt. In Israel, the players are suspected of selling games. 

The Juventus goalie, Gianluigi Bufon, was interrogated in May of this year under the suspicion that he participated in illegal gambling regarding the results of major league Italian games while he was playing in Parma. The goalie denied the accusations and later on continued to win the World Cup with the Italian team. Over the summer off-season period, stories were published in the Italian press that stated that he would leave Juventus, but had chosen to play with the team in the second league. 

The Italian prosecution continues to investigate Bufon’s involvement in illegal gambling, as well as the involvement of Enzo Marsecha (today with Spanish Seville), defender Mark Yuliano (today with Messina), and goalie Antonio Chimenti who has already retired from playing soccer. The team managers and umpires, who were also involved in the affair, suffered suspension punishments from between a year to five years in addition to heavy fines. 

Ten years ago English soccer suffered one of its greatest scandals when the Sun published a story claiming that three players and a businessman from Malaysia were suspected of influencing the results of games. The most famous of the three players was former Liverpool goalie, Bruce Groblar. The goalie was not satisfied by the salary he received from his team.

In 1993 the goalie and two other additional soccer players agreed to sell a game for 67 thousand dollars. Grobler and the others involved in the affair were accused of conspiring to perform corrupt acts. After two trials regarding the matter, the jury was unable to reach a decision regarding the verdict of the goalie, the two players, and the businessman. 

Germany, like Israel, also experienced a “Red Umpire” scandal two years ago. The main accused person, soccer umpire Robert Hoizer, was sentenced to 29 months imprisonment due to his tipping of game results. Hoizer admitted that he had received 70 thousand euros in order to tip the results of a game, and appeal filed against his punishment was not accepted. 

Corruption is a routine occurrence in South America. However, the story that broke out in October of 2005 that revealed that umpire Edilson Ferriera de Carbelio had tipped the results of 11 National League Championship games did not pass silently. The country unified to decide that the results of the games that Ferriera had umpired would be annulled.

The umpire himself admitted in a television interview that he had received an advance bribe of 4,400 dollars in addition to 7,000 dollars after each game that he umpired. He claimed that he accepted the bribes in order to pay off a financial debt, but this didn’t prevent his life-long suspension. 

In Argentina, two kinds of bribes are known in the world of soccer. The first is a financial incentive given to players in cases where one team needs its opponent to lose in championship semi-finals. The second kind of bribe is for the purpose of tipping the results of a game. Very simple. 

Stories regarding the selling of games broke out in Belgium as well. The first occurred 22 years ago when five players on the Belgian National Team were suspended after suspicion of selling games - this left the Belgian team with a deficiency of players in the 1984 Euro in France, and they suffered a humiliating 5:0 defeat by France. 

A year ago an additional story broke out when a Chinese businessman, Ya Zehion, was arrested under suspicion that he had caused the tipping of game results. The suspicions arose following a story that English gambling sights had offered a 480 euro award for a game in which Saint Troidan beat La Louvier 3:1 - a sum that was 20 times greater than normal prizes. Zehion was released without being indicted. 

How can we forget the dramatic scandals linked to the Olympic Committee members who had the authority to decide which city would host the Olympic Games? It was proven that committee members had received handsome incentives from the country they elected to host the games.

Is there any more obvious corruption? If the phenomenon has infected such high rankings already, what can players of the Israeli National League say when they receive 5000 shekels in order to tip the results of a definitive game?

This is the situation in the world. It is reminiscent of what goes on in Israel. There is no difference, the method is similar. The players are different. No one deludes themselves into thinking that the occurrence can be completely eradicated. The scent of money is intoxicating and inebriating. 

So what do we do?

How can we nevertheless reduce the occurrence of wrongful, illegal and corrupting gambling in soccer?

First of all, we should not cease the operation of Toto gambling. When you have an infection in your finger, you don’t cut off the whole hand. You treat the specific infection. The income received from legal gambling is positively contributed to the continuation and operation of other sports activities, the development of soccer field foundations, trips to overseas competitions, etc. just like the community donations made with gambling money from the National Lottery. 

Ideas such as significantly reducing the sum of the first place prize, or adding unknown teams from other leagues around the world to the tickets, can only cause damage and prevent legal gamblers from investing. The lottery ticket will seem dull, unattractive, and unfamiliar to gamblers who will then be required to have a basic knowledge of the entire world of soccer. The direct damage to the flow of funds to the Toto lottery will defeat the purpose of its establishment.

The Soccer Association must show public determination and courage in battling against illegal gambling.  The association has been aware of this phenomenon for years. No memorable initiative on the part of the association to directly battle the occurrence of illegal gambling has taken place. Sports journalism, which loudly publicizes these stories, forces the association to take a stand. 

The association, which is fueled by public funds, must be regulated by the state comptroller who can check the information received about illegal gambling and what actions have been taken by the soccer association in order to combat the occurrence.

Criminal violations that occur on the basis of illegal gambling are to be directly and naturally handled by the Israeli Police, just like any other criminal violation. The Israeli Police must attack this phenomenon, in a way that only they know how. It must place handling this occurrence as a high priority and allot resources to collect information via use of agents and other technological means.

A special investigation unit should be established within the Unit for Combating Financial Crime. Investigators and prosecutors should be trained to deal with this problem. The legislator and the courts should be forced to make the punishment harsher.

It all sounds good and well, and easy to do. The problem is that there is no faith in the ability of the Israeli Police, and rightfully so. The police have rightfully earned their image. In the last decade, mostly, the police has been involved in showcase operations in order to improve their public image. That’s not how you build a wall of defense for the public.

That’s not how you eliminate crime occurrences, includig illegal soccer gambling. That’s how you build a fleet of senior officers who think in terms of their next promotion. Everything is carelessly and unprofessionally done. 

Today the police are prepared to accept cases accompanied by evidence that has already been gathered by private investigators who know how to investigate and collect materials. All that is left for the police to do is to collect testimony, summarize the case, and pass it on to the prosecutors with a recommendation.

The Police is not Alone

The Soccer Association must, at this point, significantly increase its budget to conduct private investigations in order to collect incriminating information regarding those involved in tipping games or bribing players. The Soccer Association cannot satisfy itself with using one private investigation agency to do all the work.  An exclusive contract between the Soccer Association and a private investigation agency is not sufficient to answer the unique needs of the situation. 

The Soccer Association must publicly offer a commercial tender to investigation agencies and define the areas of expertise required by the agency, such as: surveillances, using agents, polygraph tests, investigation, collection of information, and more. Every investigation agency should then submit a proposal for the specific field in which it has an advantage. A representative of the Soccer Association should then distribute the work among the various investigation agencies for investigations in different fields. 

This representative from the Soccer Association should have a great deal of experience in investigations and intelligence services. This representative should delegate assignments to the investigation agencies, receive constant reports from them, crosscheck the information and enrich it if necessary, and request additional investigations in order to prepare an investigative file supported by hard evidence that can be submitted to the Israeli Police for further action.

The private investigation agencies must send out field investigators to watch the soccer games that have been allegedly influenced, become acclimated within the stadium audience, and speak with whomever necessary in order to receive the information needed in order to continue the investigation.

The investigation agency that won the Soccer Association’s commercial tender for conducting polygraph tests should conduct, as needed, polygraph tests for the players on the teams that are suspected of being involved in illegal gambling activity. The tests at this stage should be focused and based on specific information already received by the investigation agency.

Once a year, a random polygraph test should be conducted among the players, management and umpires. It is common to conduct seasonal polygraph tests at any place of work dealing with sensitive material.  It is not meant to find fault among those examined. 

The Israeli Police, the Attorney’s Office, the Soccer Association and the courts should use their influence in the Israeli Knesset to obligate the Sports Committee in the Knesset to prioritize this issue. It’s possible. It’s popular. It has public interest. In short, politicians have all the motivation necessary in order to get to the bottom of this issue and prove that they are worth their status and election.

There is nothing new here. It was many years ago, in the middle of the 1970s, when stories of soccer corruption in Israel began to pop up. And then two young Knesset members - Ehud Olmert and Yossi Sarid (who had just been elected for the first time) - decided to treat the roots of this corrupt and sickly soccer problem as their main objective as young legislators. 

The two Knesset members did not have any legal authority, but they had determination, wide public support, and youthful audacity. Their discoveries were loud and scary. The decomposition threatened to ruin all things good. A committee was established. Corrective measures were taken. Calm resumed. The big money went back into gambling.  And the corruption emerged once again, and on a huge scale. 

The private investigators, the Soccer Association, and all the law enforcement authorities who are meant to take part in the battle to end soccer corruption should adopt the most successful operative method (the same one that “deep throat” from the “Watergate” scandal suggested to reports Bob Woodward and Carl Bernstein, whose investigation led President Nixon to a shameful resignation). “Follow the Money”.