THE motive for the savage killing of Chinese couple Zhen Xing Yang and Xi Zhou in Newcastle has never been established.
One strand of evidence heard in their murder trial said that they had been seen at Newcastle United’s St James’ Park on their mobile phones leading some to speculate they were working for a betting syndicate as part of a scam.
The scam sees calls from people at English football grounds made, for example, when a team scores. The name of the scorer is relayed to Asia and, taking advantage of the time delay in the broadcasting of the match, bets are hurriedly made.
Those in the know make a mint – millions are won and lost this way – while the bookmakers lose out, and don’t take too kindly to being ripped off this way.
Xi Zhou was beaten to death with a hammer as was her boyfriend who also had his throat cut in August 2008. Their killer Guang Hui Cao was jailed for life and has never revealed to police the motive for his crime.
It has been speculated that they were killed because of an involvement in the multi-million-pound gambling industry, and for author Neil Humphreys the case had echoes of his experiences while working in Asia.
“If there were two cockroaches crossing a carpet, they’d bet on which got to the end first,” he said. “It’s hard to explain fully how much gambling is ingrained on the national consciousness there unless you see it for yourself. It’s huge business and the bookies are ruthless.
“For example there was a lad from Yorkshire who played in the Singapore S League who was attacked at his home by a gang with hockey sticks just to stop him playing a game in case he helped his team win.”
The problem isn’t a localised one to Asia as the betting gangs there have influence worldwide. It is something a proposed multi-sport corruption unit, if it comes about, would have to keep a close eye on.
Perhaps the best known match fixing case involved goalkeeper Bruce Grobbelaar. In November 1994 he was accused by a British tabloid newspaper of match fixing during his time at Liverpool to benefit a betting syndicate, after being caught on videotape discussing match-fixing.
One of the games at the centre of the claims was Liverpool’s 3-0 defeat at Newcastle United following which Grobbelaar was alleged to have received £40,000. He was charged with conspiracy to corrupt, along with the Wimbledon goalkeeper Hans Segers and Aston Villa striker John Fashanu, and a Malaysian businessman, Heng Suan Lim.
Grobbelaar pleaded not guilty, claiming he was only gathering evidence with the intent of taking it to the police. After two successive trials, in both of which the jury could not agree on a verdict, he and his co-defendants were cleared in November 1997. Grobbelaar later sued the paper for libel and was awarded £85,000.
The paper appealed, and the case was eventually taken to the House of Lords where it was found that, though the specific allegations had not been proved, there was adequate evidence of dishonesty. The Lords slashed his award to £1, the lowest libel damages possible under English law, and ordered him to pay the paper’s legal costs, estimated at £500,000.
Another bizarre case occurred in the late 1990s when there were a series of floodlight failures at football grounds, most notably at the Charlton versus Liverpool match in 1998. It was linked to an illegal syndicate in Asia where, unlike in the UK, bets are paid out on a result even if a match is abandoned so long as it is occurs in the second half of the game.
With the amount of money washing around sport, particularly football, it seems ridiculous that players earning millions each year would want to risk their careers to make a quick buck. But it has been speculated that lower paid players could be susceptible.
The most recent high-profile betting case in English football concluded last year when five players linked to League two team Accrington Stanley were banned and fined for betting on their own team to lose a match in 2008. Several other cases are being probed by the FA.
And it’s not just the results of matches that can be affected, but a question mark could be put to the money coming into the game.
Neil, who spent nearly a decade in Singapore writing about sport and corruption which he has used as the basis for his book Match Fixer, explained: “The more money wagered and collected, the more money often reinvested in the English Premier League. Asia is already looking like UK football’s biggest market in terms of viewership and revenue, kick off times are frequently changed in the UK to suit the Asian audience.
“Teams like Manchester United have advertisers only interested in Asian markets.
“The financial power of UK football is moving towards Asia and the Middle East. These are the only markets left with the financial clout to buy and save UK clubs. Who knows if the money is straight or bent?”
Match Fixer by Neil Humphreys is published by Marshall Cavendish and will be released on February 18, costing £8.99.
Anti-corruption unit proposed
THE Sports Betting Intelligence Unit has been proposed by Rick Parry, the former chief executive of Liverpool football club, and a panel of experts who were commissioned last summer by sports minister Gerry Sutcliffe to look into the issue.
If it is formed it will be based at the Gambling Commission which regulates commercial gambling in the UK.
It is understood that several cases of suspected criminal activity related to sport, including football, have effectively been ignored because there are no clear guidelines at present over who should handle them.
In some cases, a sports governing body has passed responsibility to the Gambling Commission, which has then asked for police help only to be told it is not in the public interest to pursue betting allegations when resources are needed elsewhere.
Parry’s recommendations set out in detail how a coordinated strategy would tackle betting corruption most effectively.
Governing bodies will be required to improve education programmes to warn players against illicit gambling, those who admit to problems will be offered access to appropriate advice and counselling, while a “dedicated whistleblowing line” should be established.
Other key proposals are a new code of conduct for sports governing bodies, that each of them have their own intelligence gathering system to report to the proposed unit and a review of the maximum sentence – currently two years – of those convicted.