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Not So Beautiful

15 January 2014

Football, often referred to as the beautiful game, has come under the spotlight recently as match-fixing allegations have surfaced. The international nature of the allegations – and of their investigation – tell us much about modern-day corruption and the approach taken by the authorities.

Match fixing

Business Standard

There is no doubt that football has exploded in popularity since the late 1980’s. A combination of Premier League hype, vast amounts of TV money and a media more than happy to cover every scrap of information about the game has led to what was once the working man’s game becoming a glamorous, multi-billion pound worldwide enterprise. But it certainly seems that all is not well. Reports are now emerging that, despite it never being thought possible, math fixing and spot betting are tainting the integrity of the game.

Ironically, the picture seems to be one of gamblers in the most far-flung parts of the world betting on some of the lowest-profile games imaginable. But the impact appears to be far larger than the stature of some of those games under investigation. A joint international workshop arranged by FIFA (Fédération Internationale de Football Association) and Interpol saw the matter gaining extra publicity when India’s Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) used the occasion to announce that it will set up a new unit to investigate sports-related crime such as match fixing

The announcement came at a time when a number of UK players came under investigation for match fixing. Just this month, a third footballer has been charged with conspiracy to defraud as part of an ongoing investigation into match-fixing in the UK. The National Crime Agency (NCA) has been investigating an alleged international betting syndicate that has so far seen five people – including three football players – charged.

The players could hardly be said to be household names. They have all played for Conference South teams rather than clubs that are regularly on the TV screens and it seems as if their careers are not set to reach any higher level. The clue to the international dimension of what is being alleged is in the identities of the two other men who have been charged. One is a Singapore national while the other has dual UK and Singapore nationality.

The central allegation is that all five were involved in an international betting syndicate that tried to fix matches that its members were placing bets on. This situation became apparent after an investigation by the Daily Telegraph that saw undercover reporters discussing how the scores and outcomes of lower-league English games could be fixed for £50,000 or more.

Reflecting the international aspect to match fixing, the proposed new Indian sports crime unit will link with both global enforcement agencies and the police forces of individual nations. It is a move that reflects both the estimated scale of sports-related crime and the ability of nations’ anti-corruption organisations to work increasingly closely together to investigate and tackle fraud and business crime that goes beyond borders.

In this day and age, the main fraud investigating authorities are more happy than ever – and more able – to share information. Not only will all the UK’s agencies share intelligence with each other – they are also keen to share it with their foreign counterparts whenever it is necessary.

The result can only be a more effective flow of information between national and international agencies. This enhanced exchange of intelligence will inevitably make the agencies in question more effective. But it also has implications for anyone who – deservedly or not - comes under investigation by one or more of them.

It was perhaps only a matter of time before national and international organisations started working together seamlessly. Fraud, bribery and many other types of serious and complex business crime are international in nature and, therefore, worthy of the attention of authorities in two or more countries. If an anti-corruption agency in one country needs information about a foreign national, it is now very often a simple and immediate international process to request that intelligence. Such a request is very likely to be granted. It is, after all, in the interests of the agency being asked for information to hand it over if it helps one of their international counterparts prosecute and convict one of the suspects they have on their radar.

The Director of Public Prosecution’s (DPP) guidelines have made the point that information should be shared as early as possible between prosecuting agencies in countries where illegality is alleged. Such information is not to be shared with a third state unless the state where the information originated has given its permission. In short, the DPP guidelines stress the need to recognise and respect the independence of individual jurisdictions.

This may well be due to the Innospec case; which involved the company bribing public officials in Iraq and Indonesia to keep using harmful fuel additives. The judge in the case expressed displeasure at the corporate plea bargain that had been arranged – highlighting the danger of one country’s jurisdiction being hampered by events that may have happened in other countries. Any countries involved in a multinational investigation now have to be careful about precisely where and how prosecutions are brought.

It seems as if the issue of jurisdiction is decided by the principle of the prosecution being brought in whichever country had most of the criminal behaviour carried out within its borders. This may cause some logistical problems when it comes to producing and transferring evidence and witnesses from one country to another. Nevertheless, more and more international cooperation will boost investigating authorities – and make it harder for defendants to escape detection, prosecution – or both.

TV camera at football match

As national and international business crime experts, our ability to construct and coordinate international defence cases is coming to be recognised and requested by more and more defendants. These defendants realise that they are on the radar of a number of agencies in various countries – which is a trend that is only likely to keep increasing.

Defendants who find themselves in such a situation need legal representation that is capable of handling a case that has international, cross-border, multi-agency dimensions. That will be the case for anyone arrested in connection with international match-fixing allegations. But it is equally vital that anyone else facing similar international allegations seeks out the strongest possible legal defence to avoid an awkward legal clash away from home.


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