Requiem for a Fixer
He was one of the best. Yet in the end, he was brought down in a futile attempt to fix a little team in a forgettable tournament.
For those readers who do not follow the intricacies of the Singaporean legal system, you may have missed the story this week, that one was imprisoned for four years for match-fixing. The actual case involved Pal bribing the coach of the East Timor national team and some of his players with 15,000$
How Pal got them to fix the game is instructive. He wanted the East Timor to hold their opponents to 0-0 draw for the first twenty minutes of the match and then let them score seven unanswered goals. Brilliant. If they had managed to pull it off it would have been a massive pay-day. The betting market expected East Timor to lose what they did not expect was them to lose by so much (over the Asian handicap (spread)). Also by getting the East Timor team to hold off for the first twenty minutes, Pal could have made money in the live betting as the odds were adjusted at the beginning of the game.
Now, the ending is rather sad and squalid. Pal was a great match-fixer. At one point, he traveled the world attempting to fix some of the biggest tournaments of the world. By his own admission, he went to some of the big football tournaments: the Under-17 World Cup, the Olympics and the World Cup itself. He was even at the centre of a diplomatic row between Singapore and Malaysia in 1995, when his fixing network was so large that the Royal Malaysian Police claimed he had nine of the fourteen teams on his pay roll.
For those who play the King of the Kelong Competition (who is the biggest match-fixer in the region) it was a toss-up between him and Dan Tan. For my money, Pal had a panache that Tan missed. Pal invented, for example, ghost fixing. He once got two of his teams not to show up at the stadium, rented the stadium and then held the “game” – whose result he announced to the gambling market.
I know and have met Pal several times. I like him. Here is an excerpt from one of our interviews:
Pal’s moment of glory came in 1998. He had been arrested for match- fixing in the Singapore league. He was in jail. Singaporean prisons are not places for the weak-kneed. The authorities do not subscribe to the idea of prisons as houses of reform or gentle correction. They are nasty, brutish, and savage places. The German goalkeeper, Lutz Pfannenstiel, who was jailed there for match-fixing, described conditions inside: “At night there were people being raped. Someone died and I remember them carrying him out . . . I could hear the screams of people being caned. It was horrific.” But somehow, maybe by his ability to judge human nature, Pal thrived in the place. He managed to get a prison guard to smuggle in a mobile phone. From then on, he was set.
“I did everything,” he said happily “I worked from inside the prison. European matches, World Cup matches, international games.”
“Hold on,” I said. “Did you say that you were gambling on games inside a prison or you were fixing from inside the prison?”
“Both. I did both. I fixed games as well. Or I did until they caught me.”
“I’m sorry. I can’t believe you. You say you fixed a World Cup game from inside a Singaporean prison?”
“Oh yes; once you have the network it is easy. I tell you, I could tell any games that are fixed. Doesn’t matter what they are. And I can fix almost any match.”
Then he told me the story of how he achieved the ultimate soccer fixer’s goal, arranging a match in the World Cup Finals.
The Fix, page 203.
Now Pal is off for another long stretch in Singapore jail system. I hope he makes it through his term. My sense is that Pal is vulnerable. His problem is that he knows too much. He knows the names of some very powerful people who bankrolled his operations for years and because of that he is exactly the kind of chap who gets into unfortunate accidents in jail.
At this point, a fair minded reader might ask, “Right ho, Hill. You criticize the Singaporean government for not doing enough to stop their home-grown fixers. You accuse Singaporean police and officials of providing match-fixers a de facto type of protection, so that they could go around the world and fix matches, so long as they did not fix in Singapore. Surely this is proof that they are doing something?”
Up to a point.
If the Singaporeans or Interpol or the Qataris or FIFA or (fill in name of any of the other international organization purportedly fighting fixing) really wanted to clean up match-fixing here is what they would do with Pal.
Take the money they spend on one of their interminable conferences where they gather a group of people to speak nonsense to each other. Take the money for just one of those conferences and give it to Pal.
Let him take his family and move to Sri Lanka. Give Pal enough money to be comfortable. Here is his one condition. He has to fly around the world and testify against all sports officials, players and referees that he bribed. All the league officials. All the FIFA-connected people. All the team owners who used to pay him to organize the fixes. All the internationally-ranked players and referees that he corrupted. If he is caught lying – even once – in his testimony, he goes back to Singaporean prison, this time for twenty years.
Pal’s potential testimony (like Dan Tan) would truly clean up the sport. It would strike a significant blow against the organized criminals inside football. However, it is a blow that the sporting establishment is desperate not to have happen. Better for them that fixers like Pal and Tan are shut up where no one can hear them. Now the sporting establishment can carry on with their nonsensical battle against fixing and the corrupt elements in their midst can continue to ruin the sport.