Daily News is in contact with the man who has been named as the central figure in a match-fixing scandal that has left the country’s number one sport with a real sense of shame.
The 44-year-old serial offender has previously been jailed in his home country for match-fixing.
A Zimbabwe Football Association (ZIFA) investigation committee recently completed a probe report which has fingered Raj – as he is commonly known – as the shrewd paymaster in a betting syndicate believed to have been orchestrated by suspended ZIFA officials Henrietta Rushwaya and Jonathan Musavengana.
Chief executive Rushwaya , through whose connections Raj got involved with Zimbabwe, is said to have benefited from the syndicate as the ring leader, although she preferred to remain in the background. Musavengana, as the association’s programmes manager, did most of the logistics, traveling with the team as point man to facilitate payments between the syndicate and players.
Travelling coach Joey Antipas and players interviewed by the probe team confessed to have received “dirty money” to throw matches.
In one of the matches highlighted in the report, played in December 2009, Zimbabwe were under instruction to draw 0-0 or lose 1-0 to Thailand, and the goal was to be conceded in the 20th minute.
According to the report, Musavengana and Raj sat on the team bench, giving out instructions on how to concede and lose the match.
The players, who stood to get $3 000 each for losing by the fixed scoreline, were beaten 3-0 much to the disgust of Raj, who refused to pay the players and accused them of costing him $1 million.
Raj denied that the match was fixed, saying the players were not paid their “match fees” because he could not reward them for losing.
“In Thailand the boys were given strict instructions to put up a good match with the Thai team,” he told the Daily News. “They were told there will be no match bonus if they lose. They lost 3-0 to two late goals. We were very disappointed with the performance of the Zimbabwe team and there were no match fees for that game.”
Raj also denied ever sitting on the Zimbabwe team bench.
“The probe reveals that there was someone on the bench instructing players on what to do during the Thailand match. For your information, I was not in Thailand on the day of the match. Whoever was on the bench is not known to me or my company,” he said.
“Did any of the players mention the name Wilson Raj as the one who gave instructions to lose the Thailand match by 1-0? If they did then they must be lying because I was never in Thailand on that day. I never met any players in Thailand or offered any money to lose matches. In fact no money was given for their poor performance.”
It also emerged that the Thailand trip almost failed to take off after the ZIFA council refused to sanction it. Sensing trouble, Rushwaya, according to the report, unsuccessfully tried to abort the trip.
This was confirmed by Raj in his correspondence with the Daily News.
“I arranged the match between Thailand and Zimbabwe,” he said. “But Rushwaya sent an email to the Thai FA stating that Zimbabwe will not travel. But someone from the (Zimbabwe) FA called and said that they can still get the team on board and there is no need to cancel the match.”
The “someone” is believed to be Musavengana.
Raj claims to be a reformed man following his imprisonment, distancing himself from the murky world of match-fixing.
“I served my term and then decided to put my knowledge in football to good use,” he said. “I started an events organisation company and started a legitimate business.”
He said the matches in Asia had a very low profile and therefore not attractive to betting syndicates.
“Betting companies do not allow betting for Southeast Asian matches,” he claimed.
“Even if they do, the betting is on a very small scale. Any irregular betting pattern allows the betting company to void your bets. It is not easy to place bets on such matches and it is not worth the while to even think of fixing a match of such low scale.”
After Zimbabwe lost by the undesired scoreline in Thailand, Raj is reported to have hastily arranged another match for them against Syria in Malaysia to recover his money. The players were instructed to lose 6-0.
The players initially refused to play as they were said to be “fearing for their lives” after Raj threatened them in Thailand. They eventually agreed to play, and lost to instructions after which they were “handsomely paid” after the match.
But Raj claims the players were paid before the match. The payments, he said, were in fact match fees, not kickbacks.
“The allegations stating that the syndicate lost money and they had arranged another match within two days is absolutely false,” he said.
“The team lost to Thailand and were not given match allowances or match fees for a pathetic performance. When the team was supposed to play against Syria the team did not want to go into the pitch to start the match. This confutes that players feared for their lives. The Malaysia officials had to practically beg the Zimbabwe team to start the match. We had to make arrangements for $10 000 as match fees for the team in order to start the match. The team had no spirit or desire to play and succumbed to a 6-0 scoreline. After this bad experience we never had any dealings with Zimbabwe.”
Asked why as match agent he paid players directly, Raj said he did not trust ZIFA officials.
“The money usually ends up in the FA because the people in the FA will never pay the players.”
Raj signed off with a broadside: “In my opinion, Zimbabwe should set up panels to find ways and means to improve the poverty and education system of the country than waste time, money and effort on such baseless allegations. Your players and officials kept their mouths shut about these issues for a good one year and all of a sudden they start to sing.”
A Singapore newspaper describes Raj as a serial criminal, and in one story he is said to be a recalcitrant offender who failed to show up at his appeal hearing and he is now a wanted man.
The High Court dismissed the appeal by Wilson Raj Perumal, 44, and issued a warrant for his arrest. His mother could stand to lose the $80,000 she posted as bail for him.
The events manager, who has a string of 13 convictions for housebreaking, theft, cheating, forgery and football match-fixing, had filed an appeal against his sentence of five years’ corrective training for throwing himself against an auxiliary police officer and injuring him while driving off.
Corrective training, which can last five to 14 years, is a regime for repeat offenders like Wilson Raj.
He had engaged prominent criminal lawyer Subhas Anandan to handle his appeal for his latest run-in with the law, but separately hired lawyer M. Ravi to file a petition, called a criminal revision, to retract his guilty plea.
When Wilson Raj failed to show up in Justice V. K. Rajah’s court, time was given to him until after the day’s last case had been heard to turn up. But by then, he was still a no-show, even though his mother and sister were present. The court was told that efforts to find him had failed.
– Additional report by the Daily News