On November 19th, 2009 Ante Sapina and his brother, Milan were arrested with three others in Berlin on charges of fixing lower division matches in the Bundesliga. A total of 17 arrests were made in a crackdown on an international gambling syndicate that is said to have fixed 200 such matches in 9 countries. The UEFA special investigator in charge, Peter Limacher said the revelations represented “clearly” the worst ever match-fixing scandal in European football. He also called it the “tip of the iceberg.”
With Ante Sapina’s arrest, the match fixing scandal has come full circle when Sapina and his two brothers, Filip and Milan were arrested for masterminding the Robert Hoyzer match fixing scandal that engulfed the lower divisions of the Bundesliga in 2005.
23 matches were said to have been rigged or attempted to rig with Sapina said to have made at least €2m euros of them. In just one single match, a second division game between Karlsruher SC and MSV Duisburg on December 3, 2004 Sapina allegedly bet €240,000 and won €870,000. The gambling syndicate operated out of Milan Sapina’s sports bar, Cafe King where Robert Hoyzer, the referee would meet up and decide the matches to be fixed.
Hoyzer came under suspicion when a number of questionable calls were made in the opening day of the German Cup on August 21, 2004 which Paderborn won 4-2 against favoured Hamburger SV on the strength of two dubious penalty kicks. Striker Emile Mpenza was also sent off.
He resigned following the match and an investigation was launched by German authorities into allegations of his role in match fixing. Hoyzer co-operattion with the investigation uncovered his ties and others to the Sapina brothers and the gambling syndicate and a number of arrests were made.
On February 12th, 2005 he was himself arrested for concealing the extent of his involvement. Hoyzer was imprisoned for 2 years and five months and banned for life from officiating matches, Ante Sapina received 2 years and 11 months with his brothers receiving lesser sentences. Another referee Dominick Marks received 18 months. Hoyzer and Sapina also faced civil damage claims from betting agencies who lost money and the DFB to compensate cheated teams.
The Hoyzer scandal resulted in the DFB and UEFA establishing an early warning system with the gaming site Betradar to detect unusual betting patterns but as this latest match fixing scandal shows the system is not fail safe. The scandal has led to the DFB and the German League joining hands to set up a task force to investigate the 32 matches under suspicion.
Ante Sapina was by accounts an obsessive gambler and in his court confessional he described his fascination with gambling since the age of 16. He also said his first big “breakthrough” came in 2000 when he doubled his money by betting on Bayern Munich to win the German championship.
His association with the high living Robert Hoyzer who in his testimony admitted that fascination with money was his primary motive behind his involvement, began on a drunken May night in 2004 when he was introduced to the referee through his cousin. That was when the idea of fixing matches was first hatched up but in the accusations and counter accusations it is unclear whose brainchild it was.
More relevant to the present scandal is how Sapina would chafe at the betting limits and the excessive scrutiny of matches in Germany. He would talk about how leagues in Greece, Italy, and Eastern Europe were far more lax. In an interview, Hoyzer says:
He also confirms that Ante Sapina branded Greece a “betting paradise” in court, compared with Germany. “In Germany they investigate everything.” In Greece and Croatia, everything was more rosy for the Sapinas. Ante once told me that in Greece there was no limit as to how much you would bet, unlike in Germany.”
Sapina’s involvement is primarily confined to matches in the lower German leagues but court documents reveal that he had built contacts in Greece, Italy, Turkey, Austria, and the Czech Republic which were used to influence the outcomes of matches. In Greece, an UEFA cup match between Panionios and Dinamo Tbilisi came under investigation when the Greek team won 5-2. There were unusually high betting volumes before the match. Hoyzer reveals that Ante Sapina’s Greek contact was a Thessaloniki man “Costas” whose relationship with someone very powerful in the national league, someone who knew the coaches, referees, and players intimately was used to get inside information.
German authorities also discovered a series of text messages in Sapina’s cell phone from a player in Turkey just before a big match who wanted a team mate to join him in the fix. A price was negotiated and Sapina flew into Turkey with €15,000 where he received two text messages from one of his brothers ‘[team name deleted] wins 210, [draws] 430,000,’ said the first. ‘Only tell him what he really needs to know!!! Please!’ said the second.
Sapina is also under suspicion in the present investigation for his role in fixing 14 matches in the Croatian league. German authorities have contacted the Croatian police to find out if Sapina operates bank accounts and owns property in Zagreb. A Slovenian man, Dragan Mihelic was stopped at the Croatian border after an arrest warrant was issued in Germany for fraud and money laundering in connection with the match fixing scandal.
Just like the recent arrests made at Galleon Capital for suspected insider trading which netted that hedge fund billions of dollars in profit, the money trail leads to entities who have access to information about soccer matches which include agents, referees, players, coaches, and even possibly a collective of teams banded in agreement to game the system. The less scrutinized subterranean levels of the smaller leagues where wages and salaries are paltry are ripe for the picking. And the money is coming from outside Europe. William Gaillard, and UEFA official in the days following the Hoyze scandal had this to say:
“The fixing might be done by Europeans but the cash depends on millions of punters in Asia, punters free to bet on games on the other side of the planet in real time.”
It is perhaps unsurprising that clubs which are being investigated happen to be in the smaller leagues as five others came under scrutiny which include KF Tirana (Albania), KS Vllaznia (Albania), FC Dinaburg (Latvia), NK IB Llubljana (Slovenia) and Honved (Hungary). As given above Ante Sapina’s network, theirs and similar such crime syndicates have operations spread far beyond their country’s borders. Where have we heard about non- state actors and easy recruiting tools before?