Friday, January 03, 2014

Australia: Match-Fixing Criminal Offences – Guilty Pleas to Football Match-Fixing Charges

Introduction

Match-fixing, cheating at sport and sports betting have been at the forefront of media attention over the last year, both internationally and in Australia and involving a number of different sporting codes including rugby league, cricket and soccer. More recently, it emerged in September 2013 that the Victorian police had uncovered a syndicate conducting multi-million dollar match-fixing activities involving Victoria’s Premier League soccer division. Six individuals associated with semi-professional football team, the Southern Stars Football Club, including four players, the head coach and the alleged syndicate ringleader in Australia, were arrested and charged under new Victorian match-fixing laws for allegedly fixing five Victorian Premier League Matches. These individuals are the first to be charged under new criminal offences for match-fixing set out in legislation relating specifically to match-fixing that was passed in Victoria earlier this year.

The Tip-Off

The Victorian Police’s Purana Taskforce and Sports Integrity Intelligence Unit commenced an investigation in August 2013 after being alerted by Football Federation Australia (FFA). FFA CEO David Gallop indicated that the Victorian police were contacted immediately after receiving data from Sportsradar about suspicious betting patterns involving Southern Stars matches. Reports have indicated that more than $2 million in betting winnings has been collected by the syndicate, with much of the money and bets on the Southern Stars matches originating from overseas. Notably, of the eleven individuals originally arrested (nine players, their Australian head coach and the “ringleader”), the majority are foreign citizens. The majority of the players are British nationals, including the four players who faced the Australian courts. The remaining four players arrested have left Australia and have returned to Europe. The alleged ringleader, Mr Segaran “Gerry” Gsubramaniam is a Malaysian national and is said to have been the liaison between the Southern Stars team and the match fixers in Hungary and Malaysia. It is alleged that he provided instructions to the team, including players to orchestrate pre-determined score lines in five matches between 21 July 2013 and 13 September 2013.

The Charges

Mr Gsubramaniam and the Southern Stars coach, Mr Zia Younan, were charged with ten breaches each – five counts of engaging in conduct that corrupts a betting outcome and five counts of facilitating conduct that corrupts a betting outcome. There was a separate charge for each football match that was fixed. Each of the players has eight different charges brought, with four counts of engaging in conduct that corrupts a betting outcome and four counts of facilitating conduct that corrupts a betting outcome.

The Law

These charges reflected the new criminal offences for match-fixing under the Crimes Act 1958 (Vic) (the Crimes Act).These offences were introduced by the Crimes Amendment (Integrity in Sports) Act 2013 (Vic) which came into effect on 24 April 2013. The new offences reflect the Victorian Government’s aim to address the key objective of the National Policy on Match-Fixing in Sport (the National Policy). The National Policy was agreed to by all of the Australian Federal and State Sports Ministers in June 2011 with the objective of protecting the integrity of Australian sport and pursuing a nationally consistent approach to criminal offences in relation to match-fixing and cheating at gambling. 1074410_1 2 In the present circumstances, the relevant offences are set out at sections 195C and 195D of the Crimes Act. Under section 195C, a person must not engage in conduct that corrupts or would corrupt a betting outcome of an event, knowing that the conduct corrupts the event and having the intention to obtain a financial advantage or cause a financial disadvantage, in connection with any betting on the event. Similarly, section 195D(1) prohibits a person from offering to engage in or encouraging another person to engage in the corrupting conduct. It is also an offence under section 195D(2) for a person to knowingly or recklessly encourage another person to conceal such corrupt conduct, or be party to an agreement or arrangement in respect of such corrupt conduct relating to the betting on an event, with the intention of obtaining a financial advantage. The maximum penalty for each of these new match-fixing offences is 10 years imprisonment. Similar legislation introducing criminal offences for match-fixing and cheating at gambling has also been adopted in New South Wales, South Australia, the Australian Capital Territory and the Northern Territory.

The Current Case

Mr Gsubramaniam was denied bail in September due to police concerns that he was a significant part of the syndicate’s operations but also a flight risk. The four players, Reiss Noel, Joe Woolley, David Obaze and Nicholas McKoy were all released on bail but were required to surrender their British passports to the police. Their Australian coach, Mr Younan was also released on bail. The matter was heard on Friday 6 December 2013 in the Melbourne Magistrates Court. Mr Gsubramaniam pleaded guilty to charges of engaging in conduct that corrupts or could corrupt a betting outcome. He will remain in custody to appear before the Victorian County Court for a plea hearing on 11 April 2014 where evidence and information will be presented to the judge for consideration when determining the appropriate sentence. Two of the arrested players, Joe Woolley and Reiss Noel also pleaded guilty to three and four charges respectively, which related to throwing matches after being instructed by the syndicate to do so. Woolley was fined $1,200 and Noel fined $2,000, penalties that are significantly reduced from the possible maximum penalty of 10 years imprisonment. In determining the sentence, Magistrate Jack Vandersteen took into account the players’ guilty pleas, their promise to help investigators and to give evidence against others in the syndicate, and the shame, humiliation and embarrassment their actions had brought them. The two other players, Mr Obaze and Mr McKoy and the coach, Mr Younan are yet to enter pleas and were ordered to again appear before the court on 20 December 2013. Further, in October 2013, FFA announced immediate bans under its National Code of Conduct (the Code). FFA determined that, as the four players and their coach had been charged of serious criminal offences, they had breached the obligation in the Code not to bring FFA or the game of football into disrepute. Following FFA’s request to FIFA, the international governing body of football, has also imposed global sanctions on the players and coach, barring them from taking part in any football- related activity worldwide, until further notice.

What Does This Mean for the Gambling Industry?

Given the seriousness of the match-fixing offences and the maximum penalties that may be imposed, it is essential that stakeholders in the gambling and sports betting industry are acutely aware of their actions and responsibilities. In particular, online gambling and sports betting operators should ensure that they have the measures and procedures in place to identify suspicious betting activity in the event that they are called to assist in police investigations into match-fixing or to enable them to promptly notify the authorities if they become aware of betting data and patterns that indicates match-fixing is taking place. Gambling industry participants should maintain strong, positive and valuable relationships with the sporting and racing regulatory bodies, by assisting in conduct with the intention of maintaining the integrity of the particular sporting or racing industry. Further, it will be essential for sports betting operators to ensure that their employees partake in training and education as to the seriousness of match-fixing offences and are aware of, and comply with policies outlining the appropriate manner in dealing with customers who may be involved in match-fixing.

 

Jamie Nettleton
Partner
Karina Chong
Solicitor
Addisons Lawyers, Sydney
jamie.nettleton@addisonslawyers.com.au
karina.chong@addisonslawyers.com.au

 

This article originally appeared on the Addisons Lawyers’ internet site. You can view the original by clicking here


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