Scandal hits Zimbabwe soccer

2011-07-14 21:44

Harare - The Zimbabwe Football Association (ZIFA) published a damning report into match-fixing on Thursday, accusing top administrators, players, coaches - even journalists - of taking bribes from betting syndicates and of involvement in manipulating national team games.

The 160-page record of investigations by ZIFA into the alleged match-fixing on Zimbabwe national team tours to Asia between 2007 and 2009 accused the officials, players and coaches of taking bribes from betting syndicates to fix 15 matches.

Syndicate representatives paid amounts totaling $50,000 for each of the matches that were fixed, the report said.

FIFA, which is currently involved in its own wide-reaching investigation into match-fixing, has been given the report, ZIFA said.

In the documents, ZIFA investigators accused a "forbidding" number of players of involvement in widespread corruption and said the national association's former chief executive masterminded the fixing. She used secret agents connected to the country's longtime ruler, President Robert Mugabe, to maintain control and manipulate players and coaches on the tours, it was alleged.

Henrietta Rushwaya, who was fired as ZIFA chief executive last year, also received "huge payouts," according to the report.

In many cases, the report said, money was handed out by agents of Wilson Raj Perumal, a Singaporean who is on trial in Finland for fixing games there and who is believed to be a central figure in a swathe of match-fixing scandals that have rocked world football.

Turkey, South Korea, Finland, Greece and Italy have all been hit by recent fixing scandals, while a FIFA anti-corruption team delayed a planned trip to Zimbabwe to allow ZIFA to wrap up its report - which will likely now form a key part of the global investigation.

An international match between Nigeria and Argentina last month was also under investigation, FIFA said, for suspicious betting patterns.

FIFA President Sepp Blatter said on a visit to Zimbabwe last week - his first to the politically troubled southern African country - that those found guilty of match-fixing faced life bans.

The investigators, led by ZIFA vice president Ndumiso Gumede, recommended the cases are dealt with by Zimbabwean police, who have also been handed the documents.

The ZIFA report - which was delayed 24 hours as the association made copies for the media - accused, among others, Rushwaya, former national team coach Sunday Chidzambwa and the sports editor of the country's Herald newspaper of taking money.

It said former chief executive Rushwaya, Zimbabwean football's "Iron Lady," used Mugabe's feared secret agents "to enhance her status of being untouchable."

"She (Rushwaya) wielded so much power in the association to become untouchable and a mini-god and could manipulate players and coaches alike to do her will," the report stated. "Players were afraid of her and (ZIFA) board members also felt intimidated by her.

"The sheer number of players involved (in match-fixing) is forbidding."

Last year, Zimbabwe's national team captain, three team-mates and a coaching staff member admitted in sworn statements that they had been paid to lose games on a tour to Malaysia and Thailand in 2009.

The team lost 2-0 to Jordan, 3-0 to Thailand and 6-0 to Syria, and players told of how representatives of the betting syndicates were even present in the team's dressing room at halftime of one match to give instructions on how the game should go. Games on tours in 2007 and 2008 were also said to be fixed.

The stunning revelations kicked off the probe by ZIFA, which found widespread corruption throughout Zimbabwe's national body.

Rushwaya's office staff at the association "were all part of the scam as they knew about it and benefited through it," the report added.

Rushwaya, who was fired by ZIFA last year for mismanagement before the match-fixing investigations were concluded, former coach Chidzambwa and Herald journalist Robson Sharuko all denied wrongdoing. Rushwaya and Chidzambwa said they were considering legal action.

In ZIFA's final report, former team manager Ernest Sibanda said Perumal was central to the fixing and met players in Rushwaya's hotel room in Malaysia, where they were paid up to $6 000 each to throw games.

"Raj (Perumal) was paying the players," Sibanda told investigators. "They were paid, approximately, between $3 000 and $4 000 each."

Sharuko said he did not benefit from the betting syndicates for reporting on the matches and questioned investigators' methods of collecting evidence.

"I have already seen how my submission was also not a true reflection of what I said," Sharuko wrote in Wednesday's edition of his newspaper.

He said testimonies were written down from oral interviews and were not recorded electronically.

The report said Chidzambwa - who now coaches newly promoted South African Premier Soccer League side Black Leopards - took bribes when he accompanied the team on their tour to Malaysia and bought a luxury car with the money.

However, investigators also conceded that they had difficulty establishing exact amounts of money received by those accused.

Thursday's report recommended that assets, including luxury cars, bought with the bribe money be repossessed and sold to raise money for the ailing football setup in Zimbabwe.

Benedict Moyo, one of the investigators, told The Associated Press that ZIFA President Cuthbert Dube had also taken the report to FIFA when he traveled for the body's congress on June 1, where Blatter was re-elected president.

Moyo said ZIFA would now meet to decide on possible punishments.