“My car has been vandalised five times…”
-Zaihan Yusof, author of Foul!
SINGAPORE — The World Cup finals kick off early tomorrow, our time, but that’s not the only major football event to look forward to. Tomorrow will also see the launch of Foul! The inside story of Singapore match fixers, a book that football legend Fandi Ahmad calls a “gripping, eye-opening account” of the ugly side of the beautiful game.
The 152-page exposé on Singaporeans’ role in football corruption was written by Zaihan Mohamed Yusof, perhaps best known to motorcycle fans here as Biker Boy from The New Paper.
The bike reviewer is often seen lighting up the rear tyre on the latest motorcycle to hit town (and recently challenged a horse to a race), but he’s also a celebrated journalist who has become something of an expert on match-fixing.
He has written over 140 investigative reports on the subject, and is regularly interviewed by the international media about corruption in footy. If anything, he might be said to know too much about it. Zaihan says he sleeps with a baseball bat within reach.
Singapore’s prominence in this off-pitch aspect of the sport, he says, began in the 1990s with a handful of Singaporeans who spotted vulnerabilities in the game and exploited them for betting profits.
In Foul!, he reveals the inner workings of a match-fixing syndicate, tells the story of the Singaporeans involved, and examines the sometimes deadly fallout of corruption in the sport.
We quizzed the Biker Boy about his latest excursion from the more serious business of bike testing.
Q: You had to interview some “Kelong Kings” for the book. What are they like in person?
A: The three internationally known Singaporean kingpins in my book can be described as regular heartlander types. One of them has secret society backing and allegedly negotiates with a pistol on the table.
Another is described by German investigators as the gatekeeper to the multi-million dollar China betting houses.
And finally, the last, Wilson Raj Perumal, 48, is a convicted match fixer who thinks out of the box. He often travels on forged passports. While in custody, he tried to outrun Finnish police in -30 deg Celsius weather even when he in jeans and T-shirt, and he is known for faking football teams.
Q: What are some dirty tricks that match-fixers use that you’ve learnt about?
A: Threats, the lure of women and quick money, and benefits like golf club memberships to key footballers/referees are some traditional methods used by match fixers.
And let’s not forget organising international friendly matches using corrupt referees. Finally, some fixers have even managed to organise phantom matches which technically don’t exist yet appear on betting sites.
Q: Your book tells of assault, suicide and even murder as the fallout from match-fixing sometimes. Aren’t you afraid for your life?
A: The above are the unfortunate results from being caught in the match fixing net. In Eastern Europe, club presidents and football players (about 100 of them) have been killed since the 1990s.
Of course, the dangers are real and I occasionally get ‘reminders’. My car has been vandalised five times—three dents and two tyre slashes.
I always sleep with a baseball bat nearby and I observe a few security measures that I can’t divulge.
I have been given a ringside view of how some of the kelong syndicates here spread their tentacles overseas. Not reporting about it would be an injustice. I hope the information my book reveals can be used by football stakeholders to strengthen the safeguards against the kelong menace.
Q: Why do Wilson Raj and the other Kelong Kings want to tell their story? That is, how did you manage to hunt them down and then get them to talk?
A: Luckily, all these Kelong Kings have enemies. I suspect they spoke to me only because they wanted to rat on each other.
But for one of them, Rajendran “Pal” Kurusamy, he didn’t hesitate in sharing what he knew because it was all “history” or in the past for him.
Others were egoistic. By boasting about what they did or knew, they sought to reinforce the notion that they are smart cookies who can’t be touched by the law. This is, of course, a misconception.
It wasn’t difficult to score the interviews because most of my interviewees knew I was looking to speak to them. They would contact me from out of the blue using private numbers.
Q: Knowing it’s probably kelong, are you still going to watch the World Cup? If so, how about some betting tips!
A: Unfortunately, I’m not a football fan. If I were to watch the World Cup, it would probably be the finals.
Two years ago, there were prominent international football tournaments which could have made me a rich man. About 10 minutes before those matches were played, I was told the final scores. The payout was $1 pays $30. Being a non-gambler, the tip-offs were useless to me. Naturally, I got a bollocking from soccer/betting crazy friends…
Foul! will be in bookstores tomorrow with a cover price of $18 without GST