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Bad Sport

By Linton Besser and Justin Stevens

Updated February 1, 2016 20:37:00

Bad Sport

Monday 1 February 2016

Four Corners investigates the criminal networks threatening the integrity of sport.

"We're talking about a multi-headed monster here." Sports Integrity Specialist

As match-fixing allegations rock the tennis world, Four Corners takes you into the heart of the scandal.

"Corruption in sport is one of the fastest growing organised crime types in the world." Australian Law Enforcement Officer

Four Corners meets the investigators on the frontline as they play a daily game of cat and mouse.

"Interestingly, where we tend to see more activity around match-fixing is some of the lower levels of tennis and where these guys aren't playing for much prize money." Betting Risk Analyst

With the gambling industry turning over more than a trillion dollars a year, organised crime networks are exploiting vulnerable sports like tennis, to fix matches and launder money.

"There are literally dozens of tournaments which are taking place every week and the gambling markets will take bets on any and all of those levels of tennis, so the possibility for corruption is extensive." Former Sport Administrator

While tennis administrators have been quick to reject the allegations of a widespread match-fixing problem, Four Corners asks: are they in denial?

"There is still a huge question mark over the integrity of some tennis games." Sports Integrity Investigator

Four Corners returns Monday with this must watch episode, three months in the making, with new revelations and exclusive interviews.

BAD SPORT, reported by Linton Besser and presented by Sarah Ferguson, goes to air on Monday 1st February at 8.30pm. It is replayed on Tuesday at 10.00am and Wednesday at 11pm. It can also be seen on ABC News 24 on Saturday at 8.00pm EDT, on ABC iview and at

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Bad Sport - 1 February 2016

SARAH FERGUSON, PRESENTER: Hello and welcome to Four Corners. I'm Sarah Ferguson and I'm looking forward to a cracking year.

For the past two weeks, sports fans in Australia and around the world have been riveted by the corruption scandal that's plunged the game of tennis into crisis.

Since the story broke on day one of the Australian Open, with allegations that match fixing is rife, tennis authorities have been in damage control: at first denying there's a systemic problem and then, mid-last week, ordering a review of the claims.

For the past three months Four Corners has been investigation corruption and match fixing in sport. Our investigations confirm the problem in tennis has been systemic for over a decade and, until last week, largely ignored by tennis authorities.

But that's just part of a much bigger story. Four Corners has uncovered an explosion in online gambling markets, where match fixing can flourish, including operations linked to organised crime worth billions of dollars.

Tonight, reporter Linton Besser takes you inside the murky world of the offshore bookmakers and criminal operators preying on the games we love.

LINTON BESSER, REPORTER: The Happy Valley Tennis Centre is a long way from centre court at the Australian Open.

This small club in suburban Adelaide is hosting a men's professional tennis tournament - and they're running it from a shipping container.

Players stretch on the oval next door and their VIP lounge is the local cricket club.

JAY SALTER, FORMER TENNIS PLAYER AND COACH: You literally go from one week to the next, um, just trying to pay those bills or pay for the hotel room or sleep in a hotel room with five other guys or whatever you can do.

LINTON BESSER: There's very little prize money here. There's only a handful of spectators and you won't see these matches on television.

Yet millions of dollars are being gambled every week on tournaments just like these.

NEIL PATERSON, ASSISTANT COMMISSIONER, VICTORIA POLICE: When you've got multi-millions of dollars being bet on a low-grade game in tennis, then the opportunity for corruption flourishes.

LINTON BESSER: The huge gambling markets on tournaments like these create the ideal conditions for match-fixing.

If a player can be persuaded to deliberately lose a match - or just a set - anyone with that knowledge can place a bet and make a potentially huge windfall.

NEIL PATERSON: In tennis, um, because we've got a game that involves generally just two players, we know that it is, ah, susceptible to corruption, so that it is possible to get to a more junior player, um, offer them, ah, ah, an inducement to forego a game or a set within a match and, er, get a corrupt outcome.

RICHARD INGS, FORMER ATP EXECUTIVE: Well, if someone was to create the perfect sport for match fixing, it would be the sport of tennis.

The line between winning a match and losing a match is very small. All it takes is one backhand that misses the baseline by a couple of inches; a, a second serve fault on a big break point and a player has lost a match 6-3, 6-4 - and in so doing can lose the match without any suspicion at all that the player actually threw the outcome.

LINTON BESSER: As the play gets underway at Happy Valley, sports gambling analyst Mark Phillips is monitoring betting on the tournament.

He has investigated tennis corruption at the highest levels.

MARK PHILLIPS, GLOBAL SPORTS INTEGRITY: The betting patterns will show you when something corrupt is going on with that game, because the betting markets will move in a particular way when the match is being played out normally and they will veer away from that pattern when the match is not being played in a normal... manner.

LINTON BESSER: Four Corners commissioned Mark Phillips to assess the integrity risk at this event.

One match concerned him when he noticed that most bookmakers weren't offering odds on it.

MARK PHILLIPS: There was, er, a certain group of bookmakers who were offering bets in play. The same group offered... offered their in-play odds on all the matches apart from one and only a very few bookmakers actually offered odds on, on that match.

LINTON BESSER: What do they suspect?

MARK PHILLIPS: They suspect that there are players who aren't always giving their best.

LINTON BESSER: Four Corners has confirmed that one of the players in that match, Aleksandr Nedovyesov, appears on a secret blacklist maintained by bookmakers.

(Footage of Linton Besser approaching Aleksandr Nedovyesov on tennis court during break)

LINTON BESSER: Aleksandr? Yeah, hello. My name's Linton Besser. I'm from ABC Television in Australia.


LINTON BESSER: I just want to have a quick chat with you about your game yesterday...


LINTON BESSER: ...trying to understand the, the... Most of the online gambling websites stopped, ah, taking bets on that match and I'm... I was confused by it and wanted to kind of understand why?


LINTON BESSER: Really? That's the f- the first you know of it?

ALEKSANDR NEDOVYESOV: Am I, am I, am I somehow related to online betting or...?

LINTON BESSER: And just for the record, the, um... I mean, th- any suggestion of, of, you know, manipulating the match or fixing it or anything is... what...?



(Voiceover) There's no proof that Nedovyesov manipulated this match or any other.

But Mark Phillips says bookmakers produce these lists because they don't trust the integrity of the game.

MARK PHILLIPS: You'll find that bookmakers, trade rooms will have a, a list of players that they're not happy about offering odds. You know, they've, over the years they build up a database of, of players that they believe are, you know... um, where betting patterns are particularly volatile in their- with their matches. And they decide they're not to offer markets on those players.

MARK FERGUSON, NEWSREADER (voiceover; Channel 7 News, Feb): The first day of the Australian Open has been rocked by scandal, with rumours of widespread match fixing in the tennis world.

LINTON BESSER: The 2016 Australian Open was plunged into crisis after allegations of match fixing in the sport.

NOVAK DJOKOVIC, PROFESSIONAL TENNIS PLAYER (January): There is no room for any match fixing or corruption in our sport. We're trying to keep it as clean as possible.

ROGER FEDERER, PROFESSIONAL TENNIS PLAYER (January): It doesn't matter how much money you pump into the system, there's always going to be people approaching players.

ANDY MURRAY, PROFESSIONAL TENNIS PLAYER (January): I guess as, you know, as a player you just, you just want to be made aware, kind of, of everything that's... that's going on.

LINTON BESSER: The crisis deepened midway through the tournament, after bookmakers suspended betting on a mixed doubles match.

One of the players involved was Spaniard David Marrero, who denied throwing the match. It's still being investigated.

Marrero also appears on the secret blacklist obtained by Four Corners.

(To David Haggerty) Mr Haggerty, does tennis have a match fixing problem?


LINTON BESSER: But on Sunday you had a betting market suspended at one of your marquee events, The Australian Open.

DAVID HAGGERTY: Well, that's alleged in the paper and, again, I- you know, I can't really comment on it. I know that, I'm sure that the Tennis Integrity Unit is studying and looking into what happened to see if there's any evidence there to support the allegations.

LINTON BESSER: But it's very embarrassing, though, isn't it? I mean, clearly there must be a problem if bookmakers don't have faith, ah, in the sport, in that event, and in the players to play to the best of their abilities?

DAVID HAGGERTY: Well, to me, you know, you really have to separate the two things. I think there are allegations and then there's evidence.

LINTON BESSER (voiceover): The blacklist obtained by Four Corners from a European bookmaker names more than 350 professional players.

(To David Haggerty) I'd like to show you something if I could.

(Voiceover) Four Corners provided the list to the president of the International Tennis Federation, David Haggerty.

Some of the players are deemed too risky for the bookmaker to take bets on at all, while others are marked to be closely watched.

(To David Haggerty) That's a list of professional players in your sport who an international bookmaker has identified as far too risky because too often, time and again, they've been identified in suspicious matches. There's well over 300 names there. What does that say to you?

DAVID HAGGERTY: It says that this is something that our team should be investigating and looking at. And I'm sure that they are.

RICHARD INGS: I would not be surprised at all if there were many, many, many dozens of matches across all levels of tennis which have suspicious betting patterns every year.

(Footage of open-plan office, with staff looking into banks of computer monitors)

LINTON BESSER: Here at the Melbourne headquarters of Sportsbet, one of Australia's biggest online bookmakers, analysts are setting odds for tennis games around the world.

This is called the trading floor and, at the far end, the company's risk team keep a lookout for suspicious bets on tournaments like Happy Valley.

SPORTSBET TRADER: Interestingly is where we tend to see more activity around match fixing is some of the lower levels of tennis, you know, where these guys may not be playing for much prize money.

LINTON BESSER: They monitor everything from players' injuries to the conditions on the ground - and compare them with the bets flowing in.

CORMAC BARRY, CEO, SPORTSBET: We have the ability to monitor every bet that we take. We know where- who every one of our customers is: what their name is, where they live, what their IP address is, what they're betting on.

And if we see something that's out of the normal, we will instantly notify the sporting body and then they can investigate that matter further.

SCOTT COOK, DET. SUPERINTENDENT, ORGANISED CRIME SQUAD, NSW POLICE: Betting agencies can play a really good role in preserving the integrity of sport, particularly when they see fluctuations in betting or abnormal betting.

Um, if- if they inform authorities and inform the sport, even if they discontinue betting on that particular matter: that all helps, ah, i- insulate the, the sport and insulate the players.

LINTON BESSER: In September 2013, these traders noticed something strange happening at a low-level tennis match in Toowoomba.

In the opening round the bookmaker's favourite, Australian player Nick Lindahl, lost to a much lower-ranked opponent.

CORMAC BARRY: This was a classic case where we were seeing large bets from numerous individuals on a very small event. And in that scenario you automatically get suspicious and that's the classic red flag.

So you're seeing a lotta money at a low-tier event for a- you're no... It doesn't seem consistent with previous form, so the money is going for the underdog. You've no understanding of why that money is going for the underdog and that makes you suspicious.

And that's when we got, you know, we got in touch with Tennis Australia.

SCOTT COOK: Essentially that was an occasion where, um, ah, a match was, um, allegedly thr- ah, thrown, um, and that certain betting arrangements were placed on the match, ah, to those who knew the match was going to be thrown.

LINTON BESSER: Just last week, Nick Lindahl pleaded guilty to corrupting the Toowoomba match. He had been part of a group who were secretly placing bets on him to lose.

JAY SALTER: He was probably got caught up in it because he was kinda going downwards with his tennis and took, took on something he shouldn't have.

LINTON BESSER: Jay Salter, a former pro who had briefly coached Nick Lindahl, says match fixing is an open secret on the tour.

JAY SALTER: I think match fixing is a major part of tennis as we sit here and speak. I think it's a major problem. Um, I think it's always been talked about as- as I was a young sort of 18, 19-year-old junior coming through, trying to make ends meet.

It has also come up in being a coach, you know, with young guys that I coach that say, "Look there's... these offers have been made. This is- what do you think? You know, should I do it? Should I go down that path?"

Um, the experts would be correct to say that it's, it's, it's a big problem.

LINTON BESSER: It was a decade ago that tennis received an official warning it had a serious match fixing problem.

The man who raised the alarm was a former umpire, Richard Ings. In the early 2000s he was a top tennis executive in charge of integrity.

RICHARD INGS: One of the things that I noted in the five years of investigating, ah, allegations of corruption in men's pro tennis was that gambling on the sport was common; that professional gamblers were ingratiating themselves with players at all levels of competition; and that some of those gamblers were prepared to offer players significant sums of money, even a decade ago, to be involved in throwing the outcomes of matches.

LINTON BESSER: Ings was asked by tennis authorities to assess whether the sport was vulnerable to match fixing.

Instead, he found it was already rife.

(Caption: list of suspicious tennis matches)

In 2005 he gave the sport's governing bodies this confidential list of 37 suspicious matches. Four of them occurred at Grand Slam events, including the Australian Open.

(To Richard Ings) There's 37 matches that you noted required proper investigation. Has anything publicly eventuated from those investigations?

RICHARD INGS: Well, those 37 matches were matches that I looked at during my five years with the ATP. Um, some of them required comprehensive investigation.

LINTON BESSER (voiceover): Ings recommended a top flight integrity unit. But instead, tennis buried his report.

In 2007 British bookmaker Betfair cancelled all bets on a game involving the world's number four, Nikolay Davydenko.

Ultimately, there was insufficient evidence to make a finding against the Russian, but the controversy prompted a wider investigation into corruption in tennis.

BEN GUNN, SPORTS INTEGRITY INVESTIGATOR: There were some suspicious betting patterns within that game, um, which I think made the tennis authorities sit up, take notice. And it rolled forward, er, into then being asked to, with a colleague, conduct, um, the review, er, er, of the integrity of tennis in 2008.

LINTON BESSER: The review was run by a former Scotland Yard detective, then a director of the British Horseracing Authority, Ben Gunn.

BEN GUNN: We identified 45 matches that we felt for some reason, ah, were-were-were, were suspect. Now, I emphasise: that doesn't mean they were corrupt.

What we did in our report was identify those matches and suggested to the tennis authorities that it would be prudent to revisit those games, have a look at the circumstances surrounding those games, have a look at the individuals involved, check the betting patterns and move forward to see whether or not any of those players were worthy of targeting for specific investigation subsequently.

LINTON BESSER: Ben Gunn brought in his horseracing betting analyst, Mark Phillips. After six months' work, they handed their report and their files to tennis' world governing bodies.

MARK PHILLIPS: We, um, actually did a presentation: um, showed various parts of the, ah, the, the investigation that we had, that we had done and then physically handed over, um, data files and actual ring binders of, of evidence that, that we'd collected.

We were pretty experienced at investigating these type of matters and we believed the evidence to be very strong.

LINTON BESSER: Tennis finally set up an integrity unit. But Ben Gunn and a co-author of the review disagreed about the resources it needed to tackle the problem.

BEN GUNN: I recommended a, a structure that had something like eight or nine people, I think, involved. I think the tennis authorities ended up with, um, one or two.

It's extremely difficult - extremely difficult - to monitor an international sport, ah, with games on 24/7, 365 days, unless you have the right resources.

DAVID HAGGERTY: We did a full study and from that study is what determined how to set up the Tennis Integrity Unit. And that's, that's what we've done. We believe it has the rigour that we think we need to keep the sport clean.

LINTON BESSER: In all, the confidential reports in 2005 and 2008 identified more than 80 suspect matches.

Investigators believed the evidence was strong enough to take action against some of the players, but tennis introduced a new anti-corruption code that would not be applied retrospectively to these players.

BEN GUNN: I don't think there was any action taken on any of those, ah, players that we, er, um, named in our report.

LINTON BESSER (To David Haggerty): At that time, tennis was given, um, bundles of evidence. It was described by investigators as, quote: "extremely damaging evidence" that should be pursued, quote: "as a matter of urgency." Why didn't that happen?

DAVID HAGGERTY: Tennis took that information and set up an Integrity Unit. The laws that were governing, the rules that were governing that investigation were different than what we were able to set up in 2008 as the new Tennis Integrity Unit, which gives us the ability to get more information; to get phone records; to be able to prove, which is the most important thing.

LINTON BESSER: Since the Tennis Integrity Unit was set up eight years ago, it has made findings against 15 players but released almost no detail.

BEN GUNN: Fifteen, ah, in seven years doesn't seem an awful lot of matches. Er, in the same period horse racing has dealt with hundreds of miscreants who have been named, shamed and, when, er, findings of guilt have been made, the reasons for those findings including appeal findings following, er, a conviction are all published.

LINTON BESSER (To David Haggerty): The TIU redacts that very piece of information each time it publishes a finding. It-it redacts the tournament. It redacts the date. It redacts the-the, the amount of money made. What possible reason could there be for not allowing that information into the public sphere?

DAVID HAGGERTY: Confidentiality, to help us with other cases that are going on.

LINTON BESSER: What's confidential about the year that that happened?

DAVID HAGGERTY (chuckles): Sometimes you can have a link back to an event and there may be other events that are being investigated around the same time.

CHRIS EATON, INTERNATIONAL CENTRE FOR SPORT SECURITY: I just think we've outgrown that sort of way of doing business today. Integrity has to be open and transparent. It has to be declared publicly.

I mean, the reason they did this, I'm sure, is to protect the image of tennis. Well, that's the wrong reason.

LINTON BESSER: Despite the denials from tennis officials, Four Corners has obtained startling new information that demonstrates the problem has not gone away.

(Caption: list of suspicious tennis matches)

These are more than 40 suspect matches identified by bookmakers from a three-month window just last year. That's an average of more than three suspicious matches every week.

One was described as the "weirdest match ever." In another, the bookie said, "Both players have been involved in suspicious matches."

At least four of the players identified have previously been reported to the Tennis Integrity Unit.

All four competed in the Australian Open.

(To Richard Ings) How often do you think, Richard, there is a suspect fixture in tennis?

RICHARD INGS: Multiple times every week.

MARK PHILLIPS: The talk among tennis traders is similar to how it was in 2007-2008: that they believe it is a widespread problem. It's still a small amount of games when you consider the thousands of games that are played every year in tennis, but it's a significant amount of games to be a big threat to the integrity of... integrity of tennis.

BEN GUNN: I think it's disappointing eight years later - having had two reviews - eight years later that it appears there is still a huge question mark over the integrity of some tennis games.

LINTON BESSER (To David Haggerty): On December 18 last year the Tennis Integrity Unit announced a life ban against a Greek player. What tournament had he been fixing?

DAVID HAGGERTY: I'm not sure.

LINTON BESSER: Who was he playing in that?

DAVID HAGGERTY: I don't have the details. I'm not specifically familiar with that.

LINTON BESSER: Can you tell me how much money was involved? It was only December 18 last year, so we're talking a couple of weeks ago?


LINTON BESSER: You can't tell me with which bookmaker the bets were being placed?

DAVID HAGGERTY: I don't know.

(Footage inside Victoria Police headquarters)

KIERAN MURNANE, SPORTING INTEGRITY INTELLIGENCE UNIT, VICTORIA POLICE: So we've used those offences now four times in, in the two years they've been in existence.

NEIL PATERSON: And are these familiar links or are these...

LINTON BESSER (voiceover): Victoria Police has set up a specialist sports integrity division to investigate corruption in tennis and every other major sport played in Australia.

What concerns these detectives most is the fact that the vast majority of the money now being gambled on sport worldwide is with unregulated websites in Asia.

NEIL PATERSON: Corruption in sport is one of the fastest growing organised crime types in the world at the moment.

Er, the betting houses in South-East Asia, principally in the Philippines: we know, ah, that, er, they're accepting bets roughly of about $2 billion every week, going through their hands.

It's estimated globally that the unregulated betting markets, er, that operate across all sports are worth between $1 trillion and $3 trillion annually.

LINTON BESSER: The risks posed by Asian websites became very real for Victoria Police in 2013.

They uncovered a match fixing ring targeting a low-level soccer team, the Southern Stars, playing in the Victorian Premier League, or VPL. The fixers were placing their bets with unregulated Asian bookmakers.

NEIL PATERSON: That was really surprising to us: that we had this happening in Australia. And whilst the o-outcomes of those games were fixed, ah, it's really not fo- possible for us to tell the true extent of the betting market internationally, um, that occurred in context of those games.

It's estimated that several million dollars were gambled on those Victorian Premier League games here in Victoria.

KIERAN MURNANE: And so what, ah, happened was: th-the match fixer based offshore has arranged, ah, the players to come to Melbourne to take advantage of the pools of money in the Asian betting market.

So, ah, w-we checked the, the odds and I-I was quite surprised that, ah, you could, ah, bet on these games.

There was, um, minimal people in the stands. You might only get 20 to 50 people sometimes at some games, and, er... I-I was surprised.

LINTON BESSER: This is Victoria Police secret surveillance of one of the fixed matches.

Several imported players from Britain and the team coach were taking orders pitch-side from the match fixing syndicate based out of Singapore.

As the live betting odds shifted, instructions about the number of goals that had to be conceded were relayed to some of the men on the field.

NEIL PATERSON: So there are relationships between some of the international people that fix games, fix matches in sport and the betting ma- um, betting.... um, unregulated betting agents that operate in, ah, South-East Asia. Um, they have been exposed before, ah, during a number of international investigations.

And I guess, ah, the benefit or the interesting part about our investigation is that we were able to charge people both with match fixing - that were players fixing the matches - and also people that were organisers of those match fixing, um, ah, events as well. They are linked to the betting markets. Um, there's close links to the international, ah, operations that exist there.

ANDY CUNNINGHAM, SPORTRADAR BETTING ANALYST: Match fixers will use, ah, these- these operators. Ah, this is for, ah several reasons: they're-they're unregulated so they can essentially bet, ah, anonymously or they- or they're poorly regulated, so there's- there's no audit trail there.

These operators will have- take massive stakes, um, ah, which is attractive to- to the fixers as well, so essentially they will know that they can, ah, bet in, in large stakes and bet anonymously, which is obviously a-attractive to them.

LINTON BESSER: Unlike locally-registered bookmakers, Asia's massive gambling websites are under no obligation to notify Australian sports if they see suspicious betting.

This provides the perfect camouflage for match fixers.

NEIL PATERSON: In terms of the legitimate market that exists, we have the ability through third-party providers to monitor wagering on those markets, so start to work out when there is irregularity in betting. And that can point us in the direction of corrupt practice in sport or racing.

Ah, so when it's regulated, we get the opportunity to look at those betting markets. Unregulated: no opportunities to look at the betting markets and we fly blind.

CORMAC BARRY: There's also question marks about the people who own these offshore betting businesses and whether they are also connected with organised crime. So I think there's risks around match fixing. There's risks around money laundering. And there's significant question marks about the people who actually own these businesses.

LINTON BESSER: One of Asia's biggest online bookmakers is IBC, now called Maxbet. It's based out of this glittering skyscraper in downtown Manila.

MARK READ, PROFESSIONAL GAMBLER AND FORMER BOOKMAKER: The scale is something that you Westerners cannot believe. The biggest bookmaker in the world, IBC, I believe turns over US $7 billion per month - not a year - per month. That's US$84 billion a year in sales.

(Footage of Crown Australian Poker Championship, Crown Casino streamed video)

LINTON BESSER: The man behind IBC is Paul Phua. Here he is at Australia's richest poker tournament at Crown Casino Melbourne.

COMMENTATOR 1 (Crown Casino streamed video): All those plaques: all those orange chips and blue chips.

COMMENTATOR 2 (Crown Casino streamed video): Look at this. (Laughs)

COMMENTATOR 1: They're going to find their way into the middle here.

COMMENTATOR 2 (laughs): He just leaned over and looked at the amount of chips had. He's holding the nuts at this stage.

LINTON BESSER (voiceover): He's one of the world's gambling whales … and a super high-roller.

COMMENTATOR 2 (laughs): I can't wait to see how big this pot is. It's almost $1 million in the middle here. He has called with top set.

(Footage ends)

CHRIS EATON: Paul Phua: what an interesting character. I mean, this man has a long history and association with the- with sports betting and gambling.

He- he offset this for a long time with his notoriety and he probably regrets this: his notoriety in poker. He became quite a well-known person, if you like, in the poker scene and this brought into question his, ah, his background in sport betting and in gambling generally.

MARTIN PURBRICK, HONG KONG JOCKEY CLUB: Paul Phua is, um, a very interesting character and I think very illustrative of, um, the scale and development of this illegal betting business and the links to sports corruption in the past decade.

LINTON BESSER: Paul Phua's gambling enterprise first began as a street-level operation in Malaysia, where gambling is illegal.

Four Corners travelled through Asia to trace his black-market roots.

We're here on a back street in Petaling Jaya, an outer suburb of Kuala Lumpur, and littered up and down the street here there are about 10 underground gambling dens.

Today they offer online casino games like roulette. But before the explosion of the internet, this was where you came when you wanted to lay a bet on football across Asia.

It's exactly the kind of place where Malaysia's biggest bookie, Paul Phua, got his start.

Paul Phua is much more than a gambler or bookmaker. According to an FBI indictment, he is also a high-ranking member of one of Asia's most feared organised criminal syndicates, the 14K Triad.

CHRIS EATON: Oh, he's alleged to be involved in the Triads, of course, in China and, ah, coming out of Malaysia. Ah, the fact is that the Triads control most of illegal gambling in, uh - and let's say "grey gambling", too.

So these guys operate as they like and as they wish in many respects. They operate in cash. They operate, ah, in, a, ah, betting books in the streets of, uh, of South-East Asia and they operate live betting by internet around the world.

Ah, massive operations, really, and they are quasi-legal.

LINTON BESSER: Former Hong Kong police detective Martin Purbrick has spent decades investigating Asian organised crime. He now heads up the integrity team at the Hong Kong Jockey Club.

(To Martin Purbrick) Can you describe the kind of people that Paul Phua surrounds himself with?

MARTIN PURBRICK: I think one word: and-and-and that's criminals.

Look at their backgrounds. Look at their activities in Macau, in Hong Kong, in South-East Asia. These are people with a long criminal background, largely in illegal betting operations or illegal gambling operations, but also in associated, ah, illegal businesses around that, ah, area.

LINTON BESSER: Paul Phua and his family enjoy a lavish lifestyle, which they document online: from private jets to fast cars and front-row seats at major sporting events.

In fact, he's a regular visitor to Melbourne, where one of his sons lives.

(Footage of Crown Australian Poker Championship, Crown Casino streamed video)

COMMENTATOR 1 (Crown Casino streamed video): Phua still has a set of 10s. It's a monster hand.

LINTON BESSER (voiceover): It's also where plays in Crown Casino's poker championship.

(Footage after poker game. Paul Phua laughs)

PRESENTER (Crown Casino streamed video): That must be nice, huh?

LINTON BESSER (voiceover): In 2013 he lost all his chips in one round but poured in more money to stay in the game.

PAUL PHUA, PROFESSIONAL GAMBLER (Crown Casino streamed video): You know, I got busted out early, then still plenty of time. So I prefer to spend my time on the poker tables.

(Footage ends)

MARK READ: He's a hell of a nice guy: I can tell you this. And basically, um, he- he was our guest in Melbourne in the 2005 Melbourne Cup Carnival. He's a, a well-known character, um, and a great client of Crown Casino, for instance, and the other casinos in Las Vegas and around the world.

LINTON BESSER: One of Australia's biggest gamblers, Mark Read, has seen Paul Phua in action at the casino table.

MARK READ: Yeah, he doesn't start playing until after half past 12 at night. And when he's come to Crown I've often been in with him, um, when he's down here. And you know, for me I'm, I'm too old for that these days. You know, I would have done this 30 years ago.

But he starts his evening at about 12, after 12 o'clock and he'll play - and he'll play for whatever the house limit is.

And the house limit at Crown Casino, I think these days, is at, of the order of $400,000 per card. So when he plays, it's $400,000 per card.

LINTON BESSER: You're joking?


LINTON BESSER: It was at the world's biggest casino hub in Macau that police began unravelling his sports betting empire.

It was June 18, 2014. Paul Phua touched down at Macau's corporate airport in his private jet. The renowned high-roller weaved his way through Asia's gambling capital.

He was en route to Wynn Hotel, where his associates were secretly running a massive bookmaking operation. Using a makeshift setup, they were taking bets worth tens of millions of dollars on the 2014 soccer World Cup, including on a match between the Socceroos and the Netherlands.

MARTIN PURBRICK: I think that's the fascinating part of this growth of illegal betting and illegal bookmaking: you can run it from anywhere.

So one can operate a multi-million dollar business, um, after flying into a city, simply by setting up TVs and computers.

It's a highly mobile business, relies on technology; but one where risk management is such for the illegal operators that as long as they can move between jurisdictions, they may be one step ahead of the law.

(Footage from Macau police of gambling arrest, June 2014)

LINTON BESSER: Within hours of Phua arriving, the Macau police stormed the hotel and arrested IBC's operatives. Hooded and shackled, the men were paraded in front of the local media.

MACAU POLICE SPOKESPERSON (2014; translation): Some of the suspects are believed to be the ringleaders of the syndicate.

LINTON BESSER: The Macau Police accused them of running an illegal gambling operation and organised criminal activity.

There is Paul Phua, third from the right.

While his father was under police guard in Macau, one of Paul Phua's sons contacted a high-level European businessman for help.

TEXT MESSAGE FROM DARREN PHUA (voiceover): Dad has been arrested.

TEXT MESSAGE FROM EUROPEAN BUSINESSMAN (voiceover): I can fly tomorrow night to Hong Kong if there is any need. Let me know if I need to activate prime minister or minister of foreign affairs.

LINTON BESSER: According to his son Darren, Paul Phua knew the Macau police well.

TEXT MESSAGE FROM DARREN PHUA (voiceover): Hey, brother. We just received a call from Macau saying that the one who arrested Paul is a friend of Paul and they are negotiating now. Hopefully they want money only.

LINTON BESSER: Just days later, Paul Phua was free.

CHRIS EATON: The suggestion is that Paul Phua may have bribed his way out of Macau. Well, it wouldn't be the first time anyone's bribed their way out of Macau. Ah, the Macau - Macau authorities have a reputation of being very loose on corruption.

LINTON BESSER: Paul Phua slipped out of the country and flew to Las Vegas on board his corporate jet.

But just three weeks later he would find himself under arrest again. This time, he was a target of the FBI.

Phua didn't realise that another of his mobile setups at Caesar's Palace was under FBI surveillance.

CHRIS EATON: What Paul Phua was operating in the Las Vegas Caesar's Palace was in fact an old-fashioned wire room. He was taking, though, massive whale bets and mass- massive whale gamblers: these sorts of guys who are dealing in the millions of dollars, not the thousands.

MARTIN PURBRICK: What the FBI found was a series of large-screen TVs watching games on the World Cup, large banks of computers and monitors, laptops, mobile phones, notes regarding bets on the World Cup: ah, basically a communications centre.

LINTON BESSER: The FBI charged him and his associates with operating an illegal gambling business and they seized his files.

MARK READ: Oh, the Americans are always saying this about everyone. If I went to America, I'd be worried going to America because they'd be saying that, "Mark, well, you're a bookmaker. And if you're a bookmaker, by definition you're a racketeer and you must be a money launderer."

This is a... y-you know, you're talking about America. This is "Waspsville." (Laughs) I've been hearing this sort of stuff all my life, you know? Anyone who emerges in the marketplace and has the audacity to threaten the status quo, the establishment here: st- the catch cry straight away is: the whistleblowers, out they come. Or the dog whistle, dog whistle: "Out we come: organised crime, gangsters, racketeers." I hear it all the time.

NEIL PATERSON: Listen, um, Paul Phua is a major player. We know that he has links into some of the unregulated betting markets that operate in the Philippines.

Um, the FBI operation was able to, ah, bring out into the open some of the information that now is known around, ah, around him. And it gives us great concern: the sheer volume of money that passes hands in this area, of the organised crime links in that space as well.

LINTON BESSER: Paul Phua's son Darren and five of their associates pleaded guilty to a criminal charge of transmitting betting information.

But Paul Phua still had aces up his sleeve.

Even while Paul Phua was under house arrest and awaiting trial in Las Vegas, he called on high-powered friends for help, including Malaysia's home affairs minister, Zahid Hamidi.

From his office here, Hamidi wrote a confidential letter to the FBI saying he was keen to see Paul Phua returned to Malaysia. Incredibly, he also claimed that Phua had routinely assisted his government on matters of national security.

Paul Phua also hired two of the best lawyers money could buy and they persuaded the court that the FBI's search warrant was unconstitutional.

CHRIS EATON: The fact that there, ah... the way in which they operated was held by a court to be illegal and therefore a technicality upon which, ah, Paul Phua was released, doesn't stop the fact that they found significant evidence and they amounted to an- a very significant charge and series of charges against Paul Phua and his co-conspirators.

LINTON BESSER: Despite being accused of criminal activities, Paul Phua has never been successfully prosecuted. He remains a valued customer of the Crown Casino empire, where his past gambling exploits have taken on legendary status.

MARK READ: Whatever the house limit around the world he will go and play, er, in: whatever the house limit is, he'll play it to the limit.

Well, I remember him telling me one time he- I said, ah, "How was the week?" And he said, "I've lost 3 million. But don't worry: I got 4 million back."

LINTON BESSER: He's such a big spender that just three weeks ago Crown Casino flew Paul Phua into Melbourne onboard its corporate jet - for just a two-day visit.

(To Neil Paterson) Paul Phua is a major poker player at- in, in Melbourne at Crown. He's a high roller. Does that concern you?

NEIL PATERSON: When we know people that have, ah, a very dubious background in terms of where their legitimate wealth comes from and then they are operating within legitimate gaming markets in Australia: that's of con- significant concern to us.

The opportunity to launder money through our casinos in Australia is not something that Australians want and, er, certainly as police we, we look at that.

LINTON BESSER: Paul Phua's unregulated bookmaking operation IBC, now known as Maxbet, has been taking bets all summer long - from Happy Valley in Adelaide to the Australian Open.

(To David Haggerty) What do you know, Mr. Haggerty, about IBC or Maxbet as it's now known?

DAVID HAGGERTY: Not sure, no.

LINTON BESSER: Do you know the name Paul Phua?


LINTON BESSER: Paul Phua is the owner of IBC or MAXBET as it's now known, and this is a bookmaker that accepts tens of millions of dollars of bets on tennis from across the world. Ah, can I take it from your answer that tennis hasn't tried to negotiate any kind of integrity arrangement with that Asian bookmaker?

DAVID HAGGERTY: I can't comment. Don't know.

LINTON BESSER: Five days ago tennis authorities finally buckled, announcing a sweeping review of the sport's anti-corruption regime.

CHRIS KERMODE, PRESIDENT, ATP (Jan. 24): This will be an open review. Ah, nothing is off the table.

LINTON BESSER: Sports fans across the world will be hoping that, this time, they get it right.

NEIL PATERSON: Sporting in, in Australian culture is so important. It's integral to our identity and our enjoyment of life to go to these games.

When we then scratch the surface and find out that, ah, on occasion, matches have been fixed; players have been bought out and, ah, therefore the consequence, the outcome of a game has been bought off: that's particularly disappointing and erodes confidence and trust in those sporting codes.

SARAH FERGUSON: We'll be watching keenly for the report from tennis authorities into the game's anti-corruption regime.

Paul Phua and Crown Casino declined to answer Four Corners' questions.

Next week, we investigate what's behind the rising number of shark attacks in Australia. Every year, hundreds or sharks are killed in nets or baited traps. So why are we still seeing so many attacks? And is there really anything we can do to stop them?

I'll leave you with reporter Geoff Thompson's first encounter with a great white.

(Preview of next week's program)


Show background information

Tags: business-economics-and-finance, community-and-society, law-crime-and-justice, tennis, australian-open-tennis, australia, china, united-states

First posted February 1, 2016 10:34:00


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