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FIFA pledges to protect match-fixing witnesses

By Graham Dunbar

Associated Press

Published: Tuesday, Jan. 10 2012 8:11 a.m. MST

ZURICH — FIFA has pledged to protect witnesses who report match-fixing plots by organized crime syndicates, as soccer's world governing body launched a yearlong campaign against corruption on Tuesday.

Security director Chris Eaton said FIFA will look after whistleblowers who contact a hotline which opens next month.

"Players are living in fear in many countries," Eaton said. "If they come forward and have valuable information ... they will be protected. I have that commitment from FIFA."

Eaton said FIFA has "anecdotal evidence" that players have been killed by crime syndicates to defend their multi-billion dollar business, and is monitoring worldwide reports of intimidation to cooperate with betting scams.

The former Interpol official says FIFA's latest campaign against match-fixing depends on players, referees and administrators reporting attempts to corrupt them.

A hotline and website, run independently of FIFA, will offer whistleblowers help in 180 languages and operate from Feb. 1 until the end of the year.

FIFA will offer a plea-bargaining amnesty for just three months to those reporting their own involvement in fixing scams.

"We are providing them with someone to go to," Eaton said.

FIFA has been encouraged by the example of Italian defender Simone Farina, who informed law enforcement authorities that he was offered $255,000 last year to help fix a second-tier match involving his club Gubbio.

"He resisted and rejected a corrupting offer, but more importantly he reported it," Eaton said.

Farina was appointed a FIFA fair play ambassador by its president Sepp Blatter on Monday.

A former detective from Australia, Eaton has led FIFA's response after a series of scandals exposed the extent of match-fixing involving national leagues and international exhibition matches handled by corrupt referees.

Eaton and his team of investigators based in London, Colombia, Malaysia and Jordan traveled to 60 countries last year following a trail of cases linked to southeast Asian fixers and illegal gambling operations.

FIFA estimates that fixers make between $5 billion and $15 billion in profit each year from manipulating matches across all sports, which attract $500 billion in wagers with legal and unlicensed operators.

"The money generated is enormous, truly staggering," said Eaton, warning that crime syndicates use their profits to increase their power and influence.

FIFA got its breakthrough against match-fixing last February when Singaporean businessman Wilson Perumal was arrested in Finland, where he fixed league matches.

A double-header of international exhibitions played in neutral Antalya, Turkey, exposed a model of fixing where corrupt referees awarded dubious penalties to fulfill bets on how many goals would be scored.

Perumal got a two-year prison sentence, and evidence gathered in the case led Eaton's team toward his network of contacts across soccer.

Eaton released redacted documents from the Perumal dossier Tuesday, including email exchanges with senior soccer officials.

Perumal promised to pay one unidentified official $100,000, with a promise of $500,000 from future matches.

In emails, Perumal questioned how FIFA could stop match-fixing.

"If the parent body is corrupt, how is it going to eradicate corruption in football?" he wrote in documents released by FIFA.

FIFA's campaign coincides with hundreds of qualifying matches being played this year for its showpiece event, the 2014 World Cup.

Eaton and his team investigated reports of fixed matches at the 2011 CONCACAF Gold Cup, and will monitor the 16-nation African Cup of Nations, which kicks off in Equatorial Guinea and Gabon on Jan. 21.

"We have no information about that tournament at the moment, but we are looking at it," he said.

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