Gambler guilty of football sabotage

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The Independent Online
BRITAIN'S biggest organised football betting scam was exposed yesterday after a gambler was found guilty of plotting to sabotage a Premiership soccer match as part of a multi-million-pound sting.

A Far Eastern betting syndicate with direct links to Triad gangsters in London and abroad was responsible for "nobbling" two English games by tampering with the stadia's floodlights and plunging the matches into darkness. The gang is also thought to have run a betting scam during the last World Cup.

Hong Kong-born Wai Yuen Liu, 38, the London-based fixer for the gang, was found guilty yesterday at Middlesex Guildhall Crown Court of plotting to sabotage a match between Charlton Athletic and Liverpool last season.

The shadowy overseas syndicate was also thought to be behind the abandonment of two other matches which netted Far Eastern organised crime gangs up to pounds 60m.

The scam was only uncovered when two Malaysians and Liu were caught red-handed at the ground of Charlton Athletic on 10 February where they had planned to plant an electrical device to sabotage the flood lighting.

The simple "circuit-breaker" made from materials available from DIY shops was to be triggered by a remote control unit when the score favoured the syndicate during a fixture at the Valley against Liverpool on 13 February.

The huge profits meant they could promise to pay Charlton Athletic's corrupt security guard, Roger Firth, pounds 20,000 to let them into the ground to plant the device.

Malaysians Chee Kew Ong, 49, and Eng Hwa Lim, 35, and Firth, 49, all pleaded guilty to conspiracy to cause a public nuisance. Liu had denied the charge. The four are due to be sentenced next Wednesday.

The syndicate was linked with a match at Upton Park in November 1997 where West Ham were playing at home to Crystal Palace which was abandoned when the lights went out with the score 2-2.

A month later, Selhurst Park was also plunged into darkness after only 13 seconds of the second half when Wimbledon were playing at home to Arsenal with the score at 0-0.

The corrupt gang, which organised betting in the Far East worth an estimated pounds 30m a game, was able to cash in on results because, under their rules, if a game goes into the second half it counts as a result even if the match is abandoned. By pulling the plug when the underdog team was drawing, the bookies were able to make huge profits because most punters bet on the favourite teams.

The British-based middle man was a convicted fraudster with links to the fearsome Triad underworld.

Yan Ming Suen, the reputed London head of the notorious Wo On Lok Triad society, was arrested in connection with an illegal betting operation set up to coincide with the start of the World Cup. His wife, Yuk Oi Law, owned the home in Kensington, west London, where Liu stayed with his wife and two young children.

Liu was jailed for five years in 1990 at Southwark Crown Court in a major credit card conspiracy. He was released from jail in 1991.

Four years later, Liu, who holds a British passport and has lived in the London area for 20 years, was acquitted of attempted murder after a trial at the Old Bailey.

Liu, 38, described in court as a "Mr Nobody", called himself a professional gambler but had lost pounds 120,000 in about two years at the Golden Horseshoe casino in west London and was pounds 30,000 in debt by this April.

It was at the Golden Horseshoe that Firth was offered the bribe for helping them fix the lighting system. Firth, 49, of Eltham, South-east London, was approached by Lim, who called himself John, and Ong, who called himself Mark, before Christmas in 1998.

Chee Kew Ong was the smooth-talker of the sabotage team, and counted the captain of the Chinese football team among his friends.

After being wined and dined, Firth let the Malaysians into the plant room of the stadium on the weekend before the match against Liverpool.

But as Wai Yuen Liu pulled up in a quiet street in his BMW with the two Malaysian co-conspirators and got out of the car to complete the final stage of their task, they were unaware they were being watched by police officers who had already staked out the ground.

The tip-off to police followed a bungled attempt by Firth to bribe a fellow security guard with pounds 5,000.

It was the third game in 15 months that the syndicate had targeted.

Success seemed assured by corrupt insiders and the fact that British footballing authorities were unaware that anything was wrong.

Officers from the Metropolitan Police's Organised Crime Group arrested four men outside Charlton Athletic's ground on 10 February and searches of the car and a hotel room where the two Malaysians were staying uncovered enough equipment to sabotage another eight matches.

Searches by detectives also showed the names of two other key people - one on computer files found in the hotel room, another in Liu's personal effects - who were working at Upton Park and Selhurst Park at the time of the two 1997 blackouts.

Both men were arrested but not charged owing to insufficient evidence but police remain convinced that they gave the syndicate inside help.

The root of the Far Eastern attempt to infiltrate the British game stemmed from Malaysia's failures to control rampant corruption in its own game.

In a nation where passions for football run second only to a desire for gambling, obvious match-fixing within the Malaysian league made punters so disillusioned they turned their attentions elsewhere.

More than 100 players, coaches and referees were arrested in the mid 1990s after being tempted, by the chance to double their wages, to throw matches.