Non-league games 'match-fix target'
Footballers and Far Eastern businessmen allegedly conspired to fix matches and maximise their returns by betting on "Goldilocks scenario" non-league fixtures, a jury has been told.
Michael Boateng and Hakeem Adelakun, both 22, together with 24-year-old Moses Swaibu, are each accused of conspiracy to commit bribery and bribery.
The three appeared in the dock at Birmingham Crown Court today alongside Chann Sankaran, 33, and Krishna Ganeshan, 43, over an allegation they all took part in a conspiracy to alter the results of games.
On the first day of a trial set to last five weeks, the prosecution's Robert Davies said Sankaran and Ganeshan were "central figures" in the alleged conspiracy, while the other three men were their "willing recruits".
He said the men had come to the UK from Singapore intending to target the non-league conference football competitions, which he described as a match-fixers' "Goldilocks scenario".
Explaining the term, Mr Davies said it was leagues such as the Conference Premier, Conference South and Conference North where "investors use the minimum level of bribe to get the maximum betting return".
"In lower divisions, the players get paid a lot less than the footballers in the Premier League, Division One and even (Divison) Two," he added. "There's far less scrutiny of what occurs in those matches."
He said betting was popular on games, "especially in the Asian market - Singapore, for example".
Setting out the case against Sankaran and Ganeshan, he added the men had come to the UK from Singapore "to engineer the results they need to make money either on betting in the UK or the Far East".
"They've come across to the UK with a plan to find lower league players willing to take a bribe or encourage other players to do so."
Describing Boateng, Adelakun and Swaibu as the men's "willing recruits" in the conspiracy, he said the three had "an important role" in recruiting other players to take bribes.
The alleged offences were brought to light by an undercover investigation into football corruption, which was later taken over by the National Crime Agency.
The jury of seven men and five women were told that the investigators, using false names, developed a relationship with Sankaran.
He introduced them to a middleman - who cannot be named for legal reasons - who in turn eventually made the introductions to Boateng, Adelakun and Swaibu.
Reading text messages to the court between Sanakran and the middleman, Mr Davies said it was the prosecution's belief the men were "negotiating fees" over the match-fixing.
In one such message, Sankaran is alleged to have written: "My boss said for the players he can pay 20,000 euros (£16,300) and for you, 5,000 euros (£4,075) because there's only five players."
Mr Davies said the middleman's response showed "concerns about the price", when he sent back a text which read: "From 30,000 euros to 20,000 euros - that's not how I see it."
The prosecution said it would argue that various messages sent between all the accused showed their intentions were clear.
"If it's not about people who are agreeing to pay bribes to fix results of matches, then what is it?," he told the jury.
"What else can it be? We say it is clear they have appeared to do."
Swaibu is alleged to have accepted financial incentives including 3,000 euros (£2,446) in cash, while Boateng and Adelakun are alleged of each receiving incentives including 450 euros (£367) apiece, for the purpose of causing them to act improperly in their jobs as professional footballers.
Sankaran, of Hawthorn Road, Hastings, East Sussex, and Ganeshan, of Hougang Avenue, Singapore, are both accused of conspiracy to commit bribery, and three further counts of bribery by offering the players cash, and including accepting 60,000 euros (£48,900) with the intention of using that money to induce professional footballers to act improperly.
Boateng, of Davidson Road, Croydon and Adelakun, of Mayfield Crescent, Thornton, have been sacked by Conference South side Brighton-based Whitehawk FC since the allegations surfaced and appeared alongside fellow Conference South player Swaibu of Tooley Street in Bermondsey, London.
The offences are all alleged to have taken place between November 1 and November 26, 2013.
All the men deny the charges against them.
The jury heard a clandestine recording of a conversation between Sankaran and an undercover National Crime Agency (NCA) officer, referred to as Ed, who was posing as a financier with £60,000 which took place at the Great Northern Warehouse in Manchester on November 21.
Asking what teams Sankaran had under his control, he replied: "One is Bromley and one is Whitehawk."
The undercover officer said: "I've never heard of them, can you even get a bet on them?
"I thought it was going to be Halifax - I'm not being funny, but I don't think you can get £60,000 worth of bets on those teams."
Sankaran's response was: "Yes you can, I' ve done this before."
Mr Davies said the conspiracy focused its first, albeit unsuccessful, efforts on a game involving Whitehawk FC.
He said: "We say Sankaran is being pretty clear, he's looking for a 3 - 0 defeat for Whitehawk.
"This is a small club, where supporters will go there and pay money - all the while there is a fraud going on."
He added: "That is not sport, that is something else."
In the event, the match was not fixed said the prosecution, after the players failed to meet - as previously agreed - with the men posing as the investors.
Mr Davies said that with time running out before they had to return to Singapore, Ganeshan and Sankaran seemed to get more "desperate" in trying to fix a game.
In one ill-tempered exchange between Ganeshan and the middleman, he told the businessman: "What do you want me to do, shoot him - I can only work as fast as the players."
Later, Ganeshan told him: "If you get this done the once, you'll see the money - we've worked so hard to get the jackpot and now it's slipping away."
Unknown to them, the Singaporean businessmen's hotel room in Manchester had also been bugged by the NCA.
A recording of one of Ganeshan's telephone recordings from that room witnessed him apparently telling an unidentified person he was looking to make "between £75,000 - £100,000" on a cup tie involving non-league clubs on November 30.
Proceedings were adjourned for the day, and the trial continues.