Members of an alleged betting syndicate have been arrested on suspicion of fixing English football games in the biggest match-rigging scandal for decades, The Telegraph can disclose.
Officers from the National Crime Agency held six men in the past two days, including at least three footballers and Delroy Facey, a player-turned-agent who has played in the Premier League.
One internationally known fixer arrived in this country last week and was arrested on Tuesday evening.
In a series of covertly recorded conversations over the past fortnight, he claimed that lower league matches could be fixed for as little as £50,000 and correctly forecast the outcome of three games played by the same team.
It is the first time in decades that police have amassed sufficient evidence to hold those suspected of trying to fix a match in Britain, following a succession of similar scandals abroad.
On Wednesday evening the agency said: “Six men have been arrested across the country as part of an NCA investigation into alleged football match fixing. The focus of the operation is a suspected international illegal betting syndicate. The NCA is working closely with the Gambling Commission and the Football Association.”
The operation is one of the first by the agency, dubbed Britain’s FBI, which was launched this year to fight suspected organised and serious crime.
The identities of the teams involved cannot be disclosed for legal reasons, as the police operation is understood to remain active. However, they are not Premier League sides. “This operation remains very live with new developments on an almost daily basis,” said one well-placed source.
The suspected match fixers are being held under the bribery and fraud Acts at a police station in the Midlands. It is understood that the Crown Prosecution Service has been liaising with police officers in recent days.
The suggestion that English football games are susceptible to match-fixing will cause serious concern for the Football Association, which fiercely defends the integrity of the game.
In recent years fears have been growing that gangs were targeting matches in the UK. This newspaper was approached by an undercover investigator with links to Fifa, who had been gathering evidence against suspected Asian match fixers offering to operate in Britain.
During a series of undercover meetings in Manchester this month, which were covertly recorded, one of the fixers claimed he could rig games and that potential gamblers would make hundreds of thousands of pounds by using the inside information on Asian-based betting websites.
The fixer, from Singapore, also alleged that he controlled teams in other European countries and could buy foreign referees to secure results.
“In England the cost is very high … usually for the players it is £70,000,” he explained in imperfect English.
He offered to target two football matches in Britain this month. He said he planned to tell players how many goals he needed to be scored in total. “So I talk to them. Double confirm. I also tell them, I tell … this [is] what I want … Because simple, I commit myself and they commit. So you tell me how many goals … Give me at least five … either 3-2, 4-0 or zero, … for me four is enough.”
The fixer told the undercover investigator how he typically instructed players. “So, so, the first, first 45 minutes, the result must be two-zero or 1-1. That’s two goal. More than enough for me,” he explained.
“In the second 45 minutes, so two-zero. Total, the whole game must be have four-zero or 3-1 or 2-2. As long as the total.”
He also claimed that he would pay one player an extra £5,000 to take a yellow card at the beginning of the game as a signal that the match’s result was likely to be manipulated. During one meeting this month, the fixer correctly predicted how many goals would be scored during a match the following day.
“This is my team”, he began, pointing to the club listed on a gambling website on his mobile phone. “I know what they’re going to do.”
He added: “I know because they all tell me every time. Because sometimes I have extra money, I just send them some money … because sometimes they need money or they call me so I just leave them some pocket money.”
The fixer asked us for €60,000 [£50,000], which he said was to cover the cost of paying the players.
He claimed to be connected to Wilson Raj Perumal, who has been convicted of rigging football matches abroad. “Wilson Raj Perumal … he’s the king … he’s my boss. Everybody in the world know him,” the fixer said.
Raj Perumal, is also originally from Singapore, but has lived in London. He is understood to be responsible for fixing numerous football matches over the past 30 years, and is helping the Hungarian police to investigate corruption.
Match fixers target players and officials to rig the result of games so that they can earn hundreds of thousands of pounds by betting or allowing others to bet on the predetermined outcome.
The bet will usually be for a minimum number of goals and the fixer will often try to incentivise players to concede goals deliberately and lose a match.
The gambling takes place in Asian markets and British betting markets are not believed to have been implicated.
Concern was already mounting that Asian match fixers were targeting lower league British games. In a recent interview, Chris Eaton, Fifa’s former head of security, said that match fixing had become “endemic” internationally.
Earlier this month, Nick Garlic, a senior official at Europol, the European Union’s law enforcement agency, criticised the Football Association’s commitment to tackling corruption and said he believed match fixers had worked in Britain.
International betting monitors have warned that millions of pounds are being wagered on Conference games and some UK bookmakers stopped taking bets on some teams early this year. Following those warnings, the FA contacted clubs to “remind players and officials of their responsibilities under the rules”.
It is understood that there are active police investigations into football fixing in more than 60 countries.
In September, four Australian players, who used to play for AFC Hornchurch, were arrested after allegedly conceding goals as part of a match-fixing ring.
On Wednesday night, an FA spokesman said: “The FA has been made aware of a number of arrests in relation to an NCA investigation. We have worked closely with the authorities in relation to these allegations. The FA will make no further comment at this time due to ongoing investigations.”
A Gambling Commission spokesman said that the body had “provided advice, intelligence and expertise in supporting this ongoing NCA investigation and continues to liaise with both the NCA and the Football Association”.