The Malaysian betting syndicate, involved in the global football match-fixing scandal currently under investigation, had tried to influence I-League games. Towards the end of last season — in March-April 2013 — Mumbai FC officials were offered “life-changing sums” to lose matches they were expected to win.
It is learnt that four or five players and members of the management were approached over the phone more than once in March-April last year by a Malaysian man named Subramaniam, who identified himself as the owner of an online betting agency with operations in Australia, Singapore and Europe, apart from Malaysia. The team was even invited to play friendly matches in Malaysia.
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One of the suspected kingpins of the global match-fixing scandal is a Malaysian Tamil named Segaran Gerry Subramaniam. Last September, he was arrested by the Australian police for fixing domestic matches in that country and is currently under trial. However, it could not be established if it was Gerry Subramaniam who contacted Mumbai FC officials.
Mumbai FC vice-president Atul Bagdamia confirmed that his team was approached by match-fixers but they did not take the bait.
He said he had informed the All India Football Federation (AIFF) and Interpol about the calls from Malaysia during a two-day seminar in New Delhi, which ended Thursday.
“Yes, the club was approached by a few Malaysian men. They called me and invited the team to Malaysia to play friendly matches. They said all expenses would be borne by them. I was okay with the idea, not knowing what exactly they had in mind,” Bagdamia said.
“However, the man later said we will have to fix the outcome of our I-League matches before going to Malaysia for friendlies. When they mentioned match-fixing, I immediately broke contact with them.”
Bagdamia, however, denied that his players were also approached by the men. Apart from Mumbai FC, at least two other clubs were approached by these Malaysian men around the same time, it is learnt.
Sources said Subramaniam demanded that he be permitted to attend Mumbai FC’s team meetings ahead of the club’s matches. He first contacted the team officials through a representative. “The team was in Pune for a match when an unknown person came to the team hotel and requested to meet a team official at the lobby,” said a source close to the team management. “The man said he was from Malaysia and was in India on business. He asked the official about his family and other stuff. It was a very casual conversation.”
Just when he was about to leave, the Malaysian said he represented an online betting company, a business that he claimed was legal in his home country. The unidentified man departed by saying that his boss, who ran the company and was also a Malaysian, will call him to “discuss business”. The “boss”, Subramaniam, called the team official a couple of days later and got down to business straight away. “He said he was going to visit India soon and wanted to meet the club’s management in person. He also requested to arrange meeting with a few of the players and said he already had set up a meeting with another club,” he said.
A day later, the phone buzzed again. This time, the offer to fix a match was officially made. Subramaniam claimed he had already spoken to a few of the team’s players and that his men had met them at the team hotel. He did not name the players but claimed to have spoken to four or five of them.
“He said the players will have to be categorically told to under-perform and lose the game,” the source said. “Subramaniam said, ‘Cooperate with us and you’re life will change forever. You’ll earn so much money that you will be able to own a team.’”
AIFF senior vice-president Subrata Dutta acknowledged that the federation was now putting systems in place to deal with such situations. “Nobody was aware about how to deal with a direct approach. Something has been happening but that never surfaced so we were not aware of it. Now since we know what is what it is easy to identify such approaches,” Dutta said. “Some clubs have already said they have been approached and they have refused. But I must say that only refusal would not do, they must report also. Recognise, resist and report, that is what we must do.”