Kathmandu: The captain of Nepal's football team was among five current and former international players who have been arrested over match-fixing allegations, including during qualifiers for the last World Cup in Brazil, police said Thursday.
Skipper Sagar Thapa was detained in Kathmandu on Wednesday as part of a coordinated series of arrests in the capital, which also saw four current or former team-mates on the national side taken into custody. Detectives said the arrests came after investigations found significant sums of money had been deposited in the players' bank accounts from suspected match-fixers based in Southeast Asia.
"We've recorded banking transactions ... between them and international match-fixers, including in Malaysia and Singapore," Sarbendra Khanal, chief of the Metropolitan Police Crime Division in Kathmandu, told AFP. "Our investigations will continue and we are discussing what charges they will face," he added. Khanal said that several matches played in 2011 as part of Nepal's unsuccessful bid to qualify for the 2014 World Cup in Brazil were under the scanner, including a match against Jordan that they lost 9-0.
"We suspect that there was fixing in several competitive matches and also in some friendly matches which Nepal lost," he said. Khanal said matches involving Bangladesh and Afghanistan, played as part of a regional competition, were also being investigated. Bishwa Raj Pokharel, Kathmandu police's chief spokesman, told AFP that sums ranging from $1,000 to $1,500 had been deposited in the players' accounts courtesy of the alleged overseas betting syndicates.
The arrests come a year after the head of Nepal's football federation Ganesh Thapa was forced to step aside over allegations that he embezzled millions of dollars and accepted bribes during his 19-year tenure. The ethics committee of football's world governing body FIFA launched an investigation last year into Thapa, a former Asian Football Confederation vice president, although an outcome to the inquiry is still pending.
Singapore has been at the centre of several major investigations into allegations of match-fixing in overseas internationals or leagues, both in Asia and even in Europe. Experts say there are dozens of illegal football betting outfits in the city-state. Eighteen people were arrested in Singapore only weeks before last year's World Cup on suspicion of being part of a multi-million dollar illegal gambling ring. FIFA on Wednesday banned a former top official for six years for his role in a match-fixing scandal involving Asian betting syndicates before South Africa hosted the 2010 World Cup.
Lindile Kika, the former South Africa Football Association director of national teams, was one of five officials named in a FIFA report on match-fixing. An earlier FIFA report told how Singapore-based convicted match fixer Wilson Perumal and his Football 4U organisation had linked up with officials in South Africa to fix several pre-World Cup friendlies. Nepal is currently ranked 190 in FIFA's world rankings and has already been knocked out of the qualifiers for the 2018 World Cup in Russia after losing a two-leg qualifier to India 2-0.