Friday, August 27, 2010

Betting Scams - Rigging Football Matches

Upton Park, 4th November 1997, Crystal Palace are leading West Ham United 2-1 when in the 65th minute Frank Lampard collects the ball on the edge of the penalty area and drills home a well-earned equaliser.

Seconds later, as the West Ham players celebrate, the ground decends into darkness as, inexplicably, the floodlighs fail.
A quarter of an hour later, two of the floodlights on the North Stand flicker into life before going out once more. With the ground in darkness the referee David Elleray has no option but to abandon the game.

A month later at Selhurst Park, Wimbledon (who were ground sharing with Crystal Palace at the time) were holding Arsenal to a draw, when precisely the same thing occurred. Selhurst Park's floodlights died after just 13 seconds of the second half. On this occasion, engineers managed to restart them just 12 minutes later, only for them to go out again - this time permanently - while the players were warming up to go back on. Referee Dermot Gallagher immediately called the game off.

Again, nobody had the faintest notion of what happened. No one suspected anything suspicious, after all electrical problems did happen, and in the darkness fixing them quickly was almost impossible, so there was no option but to abandon the matches. So the blame was laid squarely at the feet of shoddy maintenance and dodgy wiring.

It would be two years before police finally uncovered what really occurred during those games and, when they did, they found a scam so devious that it stood to make the operators millions of pounds whenever they felt like putting it into practice!

The man behind it was Wai Yuen Liu, who Police suspected of having links with the Triad gangs of Hong Kong. Based in London, Liu was a notorious gambler and convicted credit card fraudster, and was the first point of contact for the syndicates in the Far East. With the help of two Malaysian henchmen, Liu set about targeting games that would reap the biggest dividends for the syndicate back home.

After their successes at Upton Park and Selhurst Park, the gang set about rigging the Premiership game between Charlton and Liverpool at The Valley. But first they needed a a contact at the ground.
They eventually approached Roger Firth, a 49 year-old security guard who had been working there for four years. With the promise of £20,000 in cash for his co-operation, the syndicate had now secured guaranteed access to the ground's power supply.
It only took a couple of hours to install a device capable of picking up a radio signal into the circuit controlling the flow of power to the lights. The device could then be used to switch off the lights using a hand-held remote control, similar to that used to open and close garage doors.

Under British betting rules, a match is considered void and all stakes are returned if it does not reach full-time. The crucial difference in betting legislation in the Far East is that if the game is abandoned after half-time, the result at the time of abandonment stands as the final score........and this is how the syndicate planned to make their millions, by stopping games in the second-half, when the scoreline stood at a point which would allow them to make the most possible money.

The syndicate's activities may have remained undetected, but for a loss of nerve on the part of security guard Firth. Firth still feared officials at The Valley might rumble the gang, and things fell apart when he tried to bribe another security guard. It was the man Firth tried to bribe that contacted the police.

As their investigation progressed, the police discovered a working remote control device in the car used by the men at Charlton and a further eight devices in their possession. The idea that 11 matches - each capable at the time of generating up to £30million - could be interfered with, gives you some idea of the kind of money they stood to make.

When the case came to trial in August 1999, Chee Kew Ong, a Malaysian businessman and Ena Hwa Lim, a Malaysian electronics engineer were both sentenced to four years imprisonment, while Wai Yuen Liu received a 30 month sentence. Roger Firth meanwhile, got 18 months.

Although it affected Asian betting, it thankfully left no slur or question mark on English football, and precautions were put in place to ensure it couldn’t happen again. It must be said, the Malaysian syndicate did not at any point make any attempt to subvert players to influence the scores.