European Sports Scandal Case Files Reveal Unscrupulous Methods of Match-Fixers

Ante Sapina and his gambling associates, under investigation for alleged match-fixing, were also aware of an attempt to manipulate a World Cup qualifying match. The case files reveal the unscrupulous methods used by the defendants and indicate that a Malaysian gambling kingpin named Lim was also involved.

The July 30 encounter between MFK Kosice and FK Slavija, a UEFA Europa League qualifying match, is under suspicion of having been fixed.
REUTERS

The July 30 encounter between MFK Kosice and FK Slavija, a UEFA Europa League qualifying match, is under suspicion of having been fixed.

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The match between FK Slavija Sarajevo and the Slovak club MFK Kosice on July 30 was nothing out of the ordinary in the match schedule of the Union of European Football Associations (UEFA). It was just the third qualifying round for the Europa League, and only 1,400 fans watched the game.

But one man who was particularly interested in the match was not in the stadium: Ante Sapina, 33, the leader of a gambling ring operating out of Berlin's Café King. Sapina has a criminal record and was arrested last month on charges of being one of the ringleaders of an alleged gambling syndicate believed to have fixed at least 200 soccer matches across Europe. He is suspected of having fixed this match in Bosnia, too.

It was a perfidious plan that police in the western German city of Bochum uncovered in a covert investigation. With the help of a 22-year-old Swiss national and a 34-year-old Croat, Sapina is believed to have contacted a doctor working for FK Slavija Sarajevo before the match. The doctor was told to pay a €3,000 ($4,470) bribe to a cook at the hotel where the guest team, MFK Kosice, was staying. The cook's job was to stir drugs into the lunch of the Kosice players, drugs designed to reduce their performance, because Sapina was betting on a Sarajevo win.

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The investigators are convinced that the cook accepted the bribe. However, they are unable to prove without a doubt, based on wiretapped telephone conversations, that the drugging actually took place. And even if it did, Sapina's bet wouldn't have paid off: MFK Kosice won the match 2-0.

'Manipulating the Game'

But the plan alone offers "insights into the structure of the perpetrators," who "unscrupulously ignored the dangers to completely non-involved professional football players." Sapina and his associates, the investigators noted, were "even pleased and amused by this new approach to manipulating the game."

A screenwriter working on a film about gambling syndicates couldn't have been more effective at conjuring up this episode from the shady world of European professional football, which is identified as Case File 10.10 in the investigative report. It shows how much criminal energy was behind the efforts by Sapina and his associates to fix football matches. Some of the defendants come from a background in which extortion, theft and assault appear to be part of everyday business -- men like Deniz C., a 30-year-old Turk who owns several nudist and sauna clubs in Germany's Ruhr region and is now behind bars.

The sheer scope of the alleged cases documents the obsession with which these gamblers pursued their fraudulent betting activities. The day after 15 suspects had been arrested in a nationwide series of raids, police said that about 200 matches in nine European countries were suspected of having been fixed. The number of countries involved has now increased to 17.

First Player Ready to Testify

Meanwhile, the first of the accused professional players is now willing to come clean. A former second division player and his attorney are scheduled to meet with prosecutors in Bochum in the next few days. The player is expected to report how members of the gambling syndicates made him dependent on them by granting him a six-figure loan. In return, his creditors are believed to have forced him to help them fix matches.

The case is growing by the day. Contrary to the claims of sports officials seeking to downplay the situation, the match-fixing activities of Sapina and his cohorts have not just affected matches in lower leagues, such as the Upper League South of the Northeast German Football Association or the Third Turkish League. Investigators have also set their sights on top-level events, where any evidence of match-fixing would be potentially devastating to this highly profitable entertainment industry. There is probably nothing more detrimental to business than the suspicion that matches could have been fixed.

According to investigators, one of the matches being looked at is the World Cup qualifying match between Bosnia-Herzegovina and Turkey on Sept. 9. They believe that an attempt was made to bribe the Bosnian coach with €500,000, so as to enable the Turks to achieve a "guaranteed victory." Sapina is believed to have known about the attempt to fix the match, but the coach apparently turned down the offer.

Investigators also believe that two matches in the second qualification round for the Champions League may have been fixed: both the first leg between FC Copenhagen and FK Mogren Budva on July 15 and the return match in Montenegro a week later. In both cases, the Danes won 6-0, and in both cases Marjia C., a Croat living in the southern German city of Nuremberg and one of the key defendants in the criminal investigation proceedings, is believed to have tried to bribe players and officials.

By the end of last week, prosecutors had not provided the attorneys with photocopies of the roughly 300-page investigative report -- apparently "for reasons relating to investigation tactics."

As a result, a defense attorney who was trying to determine what exactly the charges against his client were, was forced to travel to Bochum, to an office on the 11th floor of a building that houses the local judicial authorities. Andreas Bachmann, the public prosecutor conducting the investigation in the case, opened a secured glass door to allow his visitor to enter the office, but only after the visitor had entered the correct four-digit code at the entrance, and then led him to a small room furnished with a chair, two tables and a plain wooden shelf with 45 binders on it.

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