Balkan Gangsters Play Deadly Football Games
Sunday 11 January, 2009
The career with the best longterm prospects in Balkan football isn’t player, coach or owner. It’s funeral director. In some Eastern European countries and clubs, say farewell to your loved ones before taking the top job and give your measurements to the local morticians and embalmers.
If you want to buy into a local club, steer clear of Bulgaria’s Slavia FC. A bomb put a lift into orbit at the holding company’s offices. Scoreline: one director and three bodyguards deceased. Eight months later another director, this time with five bodyguards, terminated by low-flying lead in the club’s grounds. (Makes you wonder if it’s worth paying bodyguards.) Four weeks on, another director took a bullet in the heart.
All this and more has come to light in a remarkable investigation by a cross-border group of reporters in Eastern Europe who’ve uncovered a world of untouchable football gangsters.
Assassinations, frauds, tax dodging, thieving, money-laundering, match-fixing, organised crime controlling the game – that’s everyday life in some clubs and leagues.
Another club much loved by the Bulgarian funeral industry is Lokomotiv of Plovdiv. Former wrestler George Kalapatirov got control of the club – but not for long. A bullet in the heart ended his reign and George Prodanov took over. When the cops extracted the remains of this George from his car they found the brake hoses had been severed.
All was quiet for three years - then the gunfire resumed. Another director took a single hit from a Kalashnikov. Seven remarkable death-free years followed and then 2005 saw three more directors exit without time to pay off their guards.
In Bosnia they kill less and steal a lot more. Around £1 million has gone missing that the national association should have paid in taxes. The general secretary, Munib Usanovic, and the treasurer are charged with abuse of office. When they weren’t giving each other interest-free loans, they lost the documents explaining what happened to another £250,000. The court-appointed auditor says it was the worst bookkeeping she’s seen in two decades.
The make-up of the national association’s executive committee helps explain. One member was convicted of robbing and shooting a man who resisted extortion threats. Another was arrested last year on organised crime charges while a third denies allegations of drug trafficking.
Bosnia’s premier league reflects all that’s wrong with the officials. Epidemic match-fixing means that in the 2007-8 season only 10 percent of visiting teams won. In England the figure is 27 percent, Germany 27 and Spain 29. Relegation is rare and the fans are forsaking the stadiums.
The leading Sarajevo fans club the Fanaticos have called for FIFA and UEFA to intervene, but been snubbed. Glasgow Rangers defender Sasa Papac has turned his back on the national association and withdrawn from international football.
Two clubs in Ukraine have been labelled ‘headquarters for organized crime gangs’ by police. When the cops raided the Zakarpattya club’s offices they arrested 36 armed men – who explained they were preparing for an election meeting. The police admitted that another 150 gunmen got away.
Another arm of the investigation, by the Organised Crime and Corruption Reporting Project, spent months probing player transfers from Latin America to Europe. They only found one murder. A Bulgarian club owner specialising in narcotics, prostitution, gambling and auto theft ventured into Paraguayan money laundering and was stopped by a single bullet to his chest.
The report reveals many famous names of players and agents plus obscure off-shore companies from the Caribbean to Luxembourg, Dublin, Andorra and Gibraltar that stink of tax evasion and other scams. The investigating team asked FIFA to comment on the involvement of some registered agents. FIFA has not replied.
The man you might expect to wave UEFA’s big stick at these rogues is president Michel Platini. But he appears confused. When asked about the 160 Polish officials charged with match-fixing Platini said, ‘I am neither a judge, nor a policeman,’ adding that national problems should be solved at home.
When the Polish government did just that in October, suspending the national association that wouldn’t clean up its sport, Platini and Blatter immediately backed the shamed officials and threatened Polish football with suspension – effectively barring it from World Cup qualifiers.
Meanwhile, electoral support for Blatter and Platini remains rock-solid in Eastern Europe.
Read the full stunning expose at www.reportingproject.net
The investigation was assisted by the UN Democracy Fund.
View the petition created by Bosnian fans begging FIFA to intervene: