FIFA watches out for Asian soccer mafia

June 12, 2006

Thu, June 08 2006

World Cup trophy

Soccer’s world governing body has instituted extraordinary measures to ensure the legitimacy of the World Cup, which opens June 9 in Munich, Germany, following a series of betting and match-fixing scandals in Europe and South America.

For the first time in the sport’s global championship, players, referees and coaches are being required to sign pledges that neither they nor their immediate families will place bets on the games.

FIFA, soccer's Zurich-based world governing body, created a company called Early Warning System. It is intended to work in concert with the international gambling industry to spot attempts to manipulate the outcome of World Cup matches.

FIFA officials have said they were concerned about the proliferation of Internet gambling and the influence of Asian betting syndicates as well as recent scandals in Brazil, Italy and Germany, the New York Times reported.

Recently, The Asian Pacific Post reported that Vietnam police are investigating a high profile corruption case involving government officers in Hanoi following the arrest of a Canadian alleged to be the head of an international soccer mafia.

The crime gang called “Long Haul” operates in Canada, Europe and Asia specializing in drug trafficking, money laundering, and organized betting on international soccer games, police said according to Vietnam-based news sources.

The Canadian was identified as 46-year-old Ngo Tien Dung alias Dung Kieu. The Vietnamese native also uses the names Dung Hanoi and Lai Thanh Huu and reportedly operated out of Vancouver and Toronto.

A spokesperson for Foreign Affairs Canada told The Asian Pacific Post that the Canadian Embassy in Hanoi is aware of the detention and is providing consular assistance.

Major-General Pham Xuan Quac, head of Vietnam’s Department of Investigation of Social Order Crimes, said Dung collected an average pot of over US$1.5 million during every major international football game.

He said police were investigating how the gang channeled this money abroad to the bookies

The arrests in Vietnam, which has dismantled a large international soccer betting syndicate, comes as police in many Asian countries work together to tackle the expected surge in illegal betting during the World Cup.

In Malaysia, police said the will use preventive detention laws and deploy plainclothes police personnel to eavesdrop at stalls, coffee shops and pubs to catch bookies and punters.

They are working undercover with counterparts in Hong Kong and Singapore to nab bookies.

Malaysia's Federal police anti-vice and gambling chief Sidin Abdul Karim said Hong Kong has become the region's illegal betting centre, with bookies in Malaysia and Singapore linking their operations there.

During the last World Cup, Malaysian police busted 10 illegal gaming syndicates.

FIFA said that if any suspicious betting patterns were detected, officials have said they might take pre-emptive action, such as switching a referee before a match, the New York Times reported.

"A number of scandals have affected football, for instance, the problem with the referees," Joseph S. Blatter, the president of FIFA, said at a news conference in Munich.

"When you see a circle drawn, the referee is at the heart of it," he said.

At the 2006 World Cup, referee assignments for the opening matches were announced a week ahead of time. During the tournament, the 81 referees and assistant referees are being housed at the Kempinksi Gravenbruch Hotel outside Frankfurt.

The hotel, which is in a wooded area, has booked no other guests except airline flight crews and longtime visitors who are familiar to the hotel staff, FIFA officials said. Ten security guards have been stationed inside the hotel while four police officers patrol the hotel grounds, according to FIFA.

Referees said they were not allowed to receive phone calls direct to their rooms from outside the hotel. The world governing body also said this week that it would establish an independent ethics committee in an attempt to curb corruption scandals that could threaten fair play, according to the New York Times.

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