Inside Asiagate saga

HARARE - I had always suspected something was terribly wrong, but could not exactly put my finger on it.

Back then, I would have never guessed that it was match-fixing, for that vice was pretty much a new phenomenon in this part of the world, something one only read about in foreign news pages.  

The year was 2007 and I had briefly left my job as a reporter to work in the media department of Zimbabwe Cricket.

A journalist at heart, I religiously followed all national newspapers during my timeout, and from time to time, would come across a preview or match report filed from some Asian country, reporting on our national team’s participation in a low-key international friendly or little known tournament against minnow Asian opponents.  

What baffled my mind was that nothing was known beforehand about these matches; no story in the paper reporting on an invitation from the Malaysian, Bahrain or Syrian FA, no squad announcement, no travel notice — nothing.   

Odd. I smelt a rat.

What further puzzled me was that no-one else seemed to question this strange routine.  

It was only when I left ZC to re-join the Zimbabwe Independent as a sports reporter in early 2008 that details surrounding this fixing scandal surfaced.  

That year, ambitious Harare club Monomotapa were crowned champions of Zimbabwe and duly went on to represent the country in the African Champions League the following year.

It was during that time that Malawian football agent Felix Sapao, with whom I maintained regular contact, spoke to me about how the Warriors were being bribed on their Asian trips.

Vilified in the Zimbabwean press for his involvement in the fake El Salvadoran national team back in 2003, I did not take Sapao’s claims seriously at the time.

It only began to make sense to me sometime in 2009 when Mohammad Rizal Hashim, a Malaysian journalist I had met in Germany in 2005, e-mailed me inquiring about the strength of the Zimbabwean national side which was touring his country and had just lost 4-0 to Malaysia in an international friendly.

I immediately replied him, correcting that the team he was referring to was in fact a club side, Monomotapa, and not the Zimbabwe national team.

I explained to Rizal that Zifa chief executive Henrietta Rushwaya had told reporters before the team departed for Malaysia that the association decided to send Momonotapa to help them with preparations for their Champions League campaign.

To my utter surprise, Rizal told me that the team was actually masquerading as the Zimbabwe national team and the whole of Malaysia, including the Football Association, thought they were hosting a national team from Zimbabwe!

For good measure, he followed up by e-mailing me a picture of Monomotapa midfielder Brian Mapfumo, clad in the green-and-gold of the Warriors, and a background of a scoreboard reading: Malaysia 4 Zimbabwe 0!
Haven’t I got a scoop here, I said to myself!

I delayed until Thursday to make a phone call to Rushwaya, who in typical fashion, dismissed my story as rubbish. But I was not to be deterred. I knew I had a big, big story.

After earlier dismissing me, she called back, explaining how it was only proper for Monomotapa to don national team colours since “they were representing the country”.

“But ma’am…they are being referred to as Zimbabwe?”

I probed further. “Yes, because they are representing the country,” came the retort.

The rest, as they say, is history. The story was duly written and published, exposing how Monomotapa Football Club from Zimbabwe had duped the Malaysians, into believing they were the Zimbabwe national team.

Later on, it emerged that tour was part of Zimbabwe’s escapades in the Far East were players and officials were paid to lose matches for betting syndicates.

What lacked were the finer details of how matches were sold and how money was made.

And when a source in 2010 identified Singaporean Wilson Raj Perumal as the leader of a huge network of an illegal betting syndicate which corrupted Zimbabwe, I had a starting point.  

“He is the man who corrupted your team, he is a very dangerous and cunning guy” my source told me.

I did my research, and the result was an exclusive story which fingered Wilson Raj Perumal as Zimbabwe’s point person in the Asiagate match-fixing scandal.

Later on when we launched the Daily News online edition, I managed to obtain Perumal’s e-mail address.  

I sent through questions to him, asking about his alleged role as the chief match-fixer in Zimbabwe’s Asian jaunts.

He replied. I had just got in touch with a millionaire match-fixer!

Without denying his occupation as a match-fixer, Perumal could only defend himself by exposing other bookmakers who had infiltrated the Zimbabwean team, one such being one Anthony Santia Raj.

Perumal did not end there. He forwarded me a photo of Santia Raj. I took the picture to one of the coaches who travelled with the Warriors on one of the trips.

He positively identified him as one of the paymasters, which proved that Zimbabwe was in fact involved with more than one betting syndicate on the trips.

One prominent figure who also emerged was Malian-born Gaye Alassane, who works for the syndicate and became quite close to the Zimbabwean players.

Later on, the Daily News would exclusively report on the suspension of over 100 players and officials by Zifa, a damning compilation of e-mails between axed Zifa CEO Rushwaya and the fixers, among other stories that shook the market, leading up to the dramatic end to the scandal with the life bans imposed on 15 individuals.

With Zimbabweans transfixed by the Asiagate scandal the Daily News on Sunday Sports Editor Enock Muchinjo, who broke the story for the nation when the issue first came to light, gives our readers the lowdown on this unfolding saga in this week’s Follow Up.

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