Kathmandu - Like most Nepali football fans, Sarbendra Khanal
was bitterly disappointed when the country crashed out of World Cup qualifying
in 2011. But the veteran investigator was also suspicious.
The Himalayan nation was never expected to reach the World
Cup in Brazil, or even come particularly close. But after results like the
thumping 9-0 defeat to Jordan, something seemed amiss.
"Every time I watched a match, it always seemed to end
in a zero for Nepal," Khanal, chief of the Metropolitan Police Crime
Division in Kathmandu, told AFP. "I just couldn't understand why we kept
His hunch was confirmed by suspicious betting patterns
reported by the Sportradar monitoring service, which has a partnership with the
Asian Football Confederation.
And it led to a money trail that has now left six people,
including Nepal's former captain, goalkeeper and a coach, facing match-fixing
claims that could earn them life sentences for treason. Five of the accused,
who all deny involvement in match-fixing, were released on bail at a court
hearing on Tuesday. The sixth, a physiotherapist, has been charged in absentia.
With Nepal's soccer chief Ganesh Thapa also being probed by
FIFA for alleged embezzlement and bribery, and the world body itself convulsed
by corruption claims, the six are not the most high-profile football figures
currently facing accusations.
But they could be the most heavily punished after
prosecutors opted for treason charges rather than other options which carry
"Stealing doesn't really cover it... this case is about
people who played on behalf of millions of Nepalis and agreed to lose matches
again and again," Khanal said.
Also read: Nepal players bailed in W/Cup fixing case
- Betting syndicates -
Khanal, 49, began his investigation after he was promoted to
head the crime division this year. He started with former defender Anjan KC,
who became a coach after injury cut short his career.
The 28-year-old's lifestyle and close ties to Dinesh 'Chari'
Adhikari, a local gangster who died in a police shoot-out last year,
immediately raised suspicions.
"He frequented casinos, spent huge amounts on imported
cars and big houses... he was living beyond his means and we were wondering
where the money came from," Khanal said.
A scan of KC's bank account revealed transactions between
the coach and suspected match-fixers based in Singapore and Malaysia.
According to the charge-sheet seen by AFP, sums ranging from
$1,000 to $7,000 were deposited in accounts belonging to the coach, four
players, their relatives and the team physiotherapist -- all courtesy of the
alleged overseas betting syndicates. The discovery was followed by a
coordinated series of arrests last month.
In addition to KC, skipper Sagar Thapa and goalkeeper Ritesh
Thapa, defender Sandip Rai and former team-mate Bikash Singh Chhetri were also
taken into custody on allegations of match-fixing over a period of eight years.
"We believe that KC was the ringleader, he knew which
players needed money and he targeted the ones who would agree to lose
matches," Khanal said.
The case covers the World Cup qualifiers in 2011 as well as
games with Bangladesh and Afghanistan played at a regional competition.
- Fake illnesses -
A physiotherapist, Dejiv Thapa, was also charged with
treason in absentia, after records showed that he had received at least $1,000 from
Malaysian footballer and suspected match-fixer, Kesavan Pattan.
Police said the physiotherapist helped team-mates fake
illnesses and falsified fitness claims as part of the alleged scam.
Khanal declined to reveal the total number of transactions
uncovered by police but said: "Each player was paid about $5,000 per
match... they must have made hundreds of thousands of dollars over the last
Investigators in Kathmandu are eager to make an example of
the suspects, who were charged on Sunday under a 1989 act against unlawfully
jeopardising Nepal's sovereignty, integrity or national unity.
"They undermined their country, they undermined the
game and they committed treason many times," Khanal said.
Nepal are currently 192nd in FIFA's world rankings -- out of
207 teams -- and have already been knocked out of the qualifiers for the 2018
World Cup in Russia.
It means that the only way is up for Nepal and their
long-suffering fans, who have much to gain from a clean-up of their football
"It's saddened and shocked me on a personal level, as a
fan of football... but we now have a chance to clean things up and a guilty
verdict would help us do that," Khanal said.For
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