Has Fash the Bash levelled the score in match-fixing sting, or is it a costly own-goal?

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The Independent Online

For his excellency the sports and tourism ambassador of the Federal Republic of Nigeria - a man who stuffed insects down his pants on a game show - ensnaring a gang of match-fixing Indian mafiosi must have seemed just a day's work.

Approached by three businessmen hoping to profit from rigging a star-studded football match in the Middle East, John Fashanu, the former Wimbledon player and contestant on I'm a Celebrity Get Me Out of Here!, set about the task with trademark gusto.

By the time he had left a London restaurant on Friday night, he had promised the "corrupt" services of at least two Premiership stars, demanded a free Mercedes and £40,000, talked of being paid through his charity and boasted about his links with a Chinese betting syndicate to lure his dodgy suitors into the open.

Or at least, that was the explanation offered by the striker turned showman after he awoke yesterday to find himself the victim of a tabloid sting. As Mr Fashanu put it himself yesterday as he launched a PR counter-offensive: "I wasn't sure whether they were reporters or Mafia, an organised criminal gang. I went along with it because I wanted to know exactly what was going on. As you will see through most of what we talked about, nothing was true at all. Everything I said was absolute nonsense."

It was a neat response to what the News of the World claimed yesterday was a damning dossier. The paper devoted five pages to making its case that "Fash the Cash" was an unscrupulous wheeler-dealer willing to use his long list of "very good friends" to ensure a team of international all stars was soundly beaten by the cream of Arab footballing talent.

A team of undercover reporters led by Mazher Mahmood, the paper's so-called "fake sheikh" met Mr Fashanu, 41, on two occasions last week purporting to be Arab or Indian businessmen. Extracts from the alleged conversations showed the former footballer, who is now juggling his role as a C-list celebrity alongside running a south Wales football club, bragged of his ability to recruit household names to take bribes. Seated in a Chinese restaurant in Baker Street, central London, eating sweet and sour chicken, Fashanu is claimed to have said: "It happens all the time in football. There are ways and means. That's my relationship with footballers.

"I tell him that this has got to happen. This is the situation. We cannot win. There are no ifs or buts, we have to lose."

Four players who could be safely recruited, including big-name stars, one of whom allegedly turned up at the restaurant and was offered £40,000, were apparently named during the conversations. The NoW, doubtless worried about any libel implications, used rows of Xs to denote the players' names.

Mr Fashanu allegedly added: "You pick a goalkeeper, you pick a striker and you pick a defender. The defender goes to pass the ball back, he knows full well that the goalkeeper is over there and he scores an own goal. Oh!"

Mr Fashanu whose eclectic CV includes Unicef spokesman and consultant to Nigeria's attempt to stage Miss World, then allegedly described how he once received £250,000 from a Chinese gambling syndicate for giving pre-match information on a match between Liverpool and Everton.

A list of players to take part in the Middle East game was also presented on notepaper headed "Office of the Ambassador Sports and Tourism, Federal Republic of Nigeria", an honorific given to Mr Fashanu to front the country's 2010 World Cup bid. It is one of a number of diverse roles he has played since he retired from football in 1995 with a knee injury, for which he apparently told the NoW he got a £5m insurance payout.

Last year, he became chairman of Barry Town FC with the idea of using the club as a showcase for aspiring African players and using the ground to stage concerts with his showbiz friends.

The conditions laid out to the fake businessmen were similarly glittering: Two laptops because "there's a lot of typing to be done"; a Mercedes 4x4; £40,000 in cash; and "when you are happy" a tax-free donation to his charitable trust.

As the newspaper put the finishing touches to its investigation by delivering a £5,000 "deposit" late on Friday night to Mr Fashanu, the situation for their target seemed, at the least, deeply embarrassing.

Six years ago, he was cleared of match-fixing allegations at Winchester Crown Court, along with the Liverpool and Wimbledon goalkeepers Bruce Grobbelaar and Hans Segers. The judge ordered Mr Fashanu to pay his own legal costs of £650,000, noting his "conduct had brought suspicion on himself". That case was sparked by an investigation by theThe Sun, which alleged Mr Fashanu was a Mr Fixit for a gambling ring.

But rather than disappearing into consultations with his lawyers, Mr Fashanu came out all guns blazing yesterday. Here, after all, is the man who barely batted an eyelid when chosen by viewers of I'm a Celebrity to get intimate with creepy-crawlies and swim in leach-infested primordial slime.

Crowing about his own "double sting", Mr Fashanu claimed he had been wise to the scam all along, having been tipped off via his manager that he was the target for a sting operation by the media or a shadowy criminal gang. And then the apparent clincher - even before money had changed hands, the entrepreneur, who also runs a football agency business from Finchley, north London, said he had been to the police "two or three times" to explain he was being asked to do something illegal.

He also produced a receipt from the Metropolitan Police for the £5,000 deposit, which he said had been submitted with an hour-long statement.

Speaking to BBC Radio 5 Live, Mr Fashanu said: "It was almost like a game of chess. When I spoke to the police they made it very clear that it is no good talking to them unless you have evidence and the only thing you have as evidence is money.

"To be honest, I was quite intrigued as to where we were actually going with this whole thing because it was getting so ludicrous. It was getting quite ridiculous. It was getting to the point where I was saying I could walk on the moon."

But there were question marks over Mr Fashanu's account. Scotland Yard said it was "assessing the facts" before deciding whether to launch an inquiry and said the footballer made his statement at 9pm on Saturday. The News of the World said that was after its reporters had contacted Mr Fashanu to put to him their allegations at 6.30pm on Saturday.

A News International spokeswoman said yesterday: "Mr Fashanu's attempts today to justify his actions verge on the ridiculous. Our dossier of evidence is available to the authorities. Furthermore, should Mr Fashanu's lawyers wish to pursue us, we are happy to accommodate them."

A further cloud on the horizon for Mr Fashanu was a possible investigation by the Charity Commission after he allegedly told the newspaper's reporters that payments he received for his TV shows were channelled to him through the John Fashanu Charity Trust.A spokesman for the commission said it would examine the allegations before deciding whether a full inquiry was necessary.