Hunch that put Nepalese foot­ball in the dock

Kuwait Times - - SPORTS -

KATHMANDU: Like most Nepali foot­ball fans, Sar­ben­dra Khanal was bit­terly dis­ap­pointed when the coun­try crashed out of World Cup qual­i­fy­ing in 2011. But the vet­eran in­ves­ti­ga­tor was also sus­pi­cious. The Hi­malayan na­tion was never ex­pected to reach the World Cup in Brazil, or even come par­tic­u­larly close. But af­ter re­sults like the thump­ing 9-0 de­feat to Jor­dan, some­thing seemed amiss.

“Ev­ery time I watched a match, it al­ways seemed to end in a zero for Nepal,” Khanal, chief of the Met­ro­pol­i­tan Po­lice Crime Di­vi­sion in Kathmandu, told AFP. “I just couldn’t understand why we kept los­ing.” His hunch was con­firmed by sus­pi­cious bet­ting pat­terns re­ported by the Spor­tradar mon­i­tor­ing ser­vice, which has a part­ner­ship with the Asian Foot­ball Con­fed­er­a­tion.

And it led to a money trail that has now left six peo­ple, in­clud­ing Nepal’s for­mer cap­tain, goal­keeper and a coach, fac­ing match­fix­ing claims that could earn them life sen­tences for trea­son.

Five of the ac­cused, who all deny in­volve­ment in match-fix­ing, were re­leased on bail at a court hear­ing on Tues­day. The sixth, a phys­io­ther­a­pist, has been charged in ab­sen­tia.

With Nepal’s soc­cer chief Ganesh Thapa also be­ing probed by FIFA for al­leged em­bez­zle­ment and bribery, and the world body it­self con­vulsed by cor­rup­tion claims, the six are not the most high-pro­file foot­ball fig­ures cur­rently fac­ing ac­cu­sa­tions.

But they could be the most heav­ily pun­ished af­ter pros­e­cu­tors opted for trea­son charges rather than other op­tions which carry lighter sen­tences. “Steal­ing doesn’t really cover it... this case is about peo­ple who played on be­half of mil­lions of Nepalis and agreed to lose matches again and again,” Khanal said.

Bet­ting syn­di­cates

Khanal, 49, be­gan his in­ves­ti­ga­tion af­ter he was pro­moted to head the crime di­vi­sion this year. He started with for­mer de­fender An­jan KC, who be­came a coach af­ter in­jury cut short his ca­reer.

The 28-year-old’s life­style and close ties to Di­nesh ‘Chari’ Ad­hikari, a lo­cal gang­ster who died in a po­lice shoot-out last year, im­me­di­ately raised sus­pi­cions. “He fre­quented casi­nos, spent huge amounts on im­ported cars and big houses... he was liv­ing be­yond his means and we were won­der­ing where the money came from,” Khanal said.

A scan of KC’s bank ac­count re­vealed trans­ac­tions be­tween the coach and sus­pected match-fix­ers based in Sin­ga­pore and Malaysia. Ac­cord­ing to the charge-sheet seen by AFP, sums rang­ing from $1,000 to $7,000 were de­posited in ac­counts be­long­ing to the coach, four play­ers, their rel­a­tives and the team phys­io­ther­a­pist-all cour­tesy of the al­leged over­seas bet­ting syn­di­cates.

The dis­cov­ery was fol­lowed by a co­or­di­nated se­ries of ar­rests last month. In ad­di­tion to KC, skip­per Sa­gar Thapa and goal­keeper Ritesh Thapa, de­fender Sandip Rai and for­mer team-mate Bikash Singh Ch­hetri were also taken into cus­tody on al­le­ga­tions of match­fix­ing over a pe­riod of eight years. “We be­lieve that KC was the ring­leader, he knew which play­ers needed money and he tar­geted the ones who would agree to lose matches,” Khanal said. The case cov­ers the World Cup qual­i­fiers in 2011 as well as games with Bangladesh and Afghanistan played at a re­gional com­pe­ti­tion.—AFP

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