Fifa anti-corruption officials will travel to Zimbabwe next week to help wrap up another damaging match-fixing investigation, the African country's football body said today.
Zimbabwe Football Association vice president Ndumiso Gumede told The Associated Press that Fifa's head of security, Chris Eaton, will lead the anti-corruption unit.
The Fifa team will arrive June 30, Gumede said, to help conclude a drawn-out ZIFA probe which will likely lead to strict sanctions — and possible lifetime bans — for a number of Zimbabwe national team players after they admitted last October to taking bribes to lose matches on tours to Asia.
"They are going to meet people in an effort to bring this issue to finality," said Gumede, who led the internal inquiry for ZIFA. "Appropriate action will be taken on completion of the probe."
Fifa did not directly confirm its participation, but said in email correspondence to The AP that "contacts with member associations are taking place as part of an on-going worldwide investigation" into match-fixing.
"We hope that you understand that we cannot provide you more details while the investigation is on-going," Fifa said.
Punishments for the Zimbabwe players could be the first for manipulating international games in a new wave of crackdowns on match-fixing in world football.
South Korea's football association last week imposed life bans on 10 players, including South Korean international Kim Dong-hyun, for fixing matches in its domestic K-League.
Investigations are also under way in Finland, Italy, Greece — and at a lower level in Malaysia and South Africa — while FIFA says it is looking at a recent friendly between Nigeria and Argentina as part of a wider probe into suspicious betting patterns and possible fixing. No players in the Nigeria-Argentina match are accused of wrongdoing.
In Finland, Wilson Raj Perumal of Singapore is on trial along with nine players for allegedly fixing league matches in an international betting scam.
Perumal, who is accused of offering bribes to players totaling about $680,000, is suspected of also manipulating the Zimbabwe matches in South East Asia.
Last year, Zimbabwe captain Method Mwanjali and international team mates Daniel Verehmu, Benjamin Marere, Thomas Svosve and coaching team member Joey Antipas all made sworn statements admitting taking money to lose matches by specific scorelines on a 2009 tour to Thailand and Malaysia.
Zimbabwe lost 3-0 to Thailand and 6-0 to Syria and the players said they were paid between $500 and $1,500.
In his statement, Mwanjali also gave details of how a representative of betting syndicates — known to the players as "Raja" — even came to the team's dressing room at halftime to give instructions on how a game should finish.
ZIFA said in last year's proceedings that it was also investigating current Zimbabwe coach Norman Mapeza and about 20 other national and club players and football administrators. Matches on tours to Asia as far back as 2007 were also under suspicion, it said.
However, because of the ongoing investigation, Zimbabwe authorities delayed taking action against the players who admitted wrongdoing.
Mwanjali — a defender with South African topflight club Mamelodi Sundowns — was allowed to continue as captain of his country and led Zimbabwe in its last international, a 2012 African Cup of Nations qualifying win over Mali on June 5.
The only casualty of the scandal so far is Henrietta Rushwaya, who was fired as ZIFA's chief executive for mismanagement. Match-fixing charges against her were withdrawn pending further investigation.
Under Fifa rules, players and officials face fines and lifelong bans from any football activity, including entering any football stadium, in serious cases of match-fixing.