Kenya: How Zoo Almost Got Enclosed in the Murky World of Match-Fixing

On January 8 this year, Zoo Kericho FC chairman Ken Ochieng received an e-mail containing good news, or so he thought.

For the record, Ochieng has single-handedly supported the club since 2009.

It hasn't been all rosy, but against all odds, he has managed to keep the club afloat. From the lower echelons of Kenyan football, the Kericho-based side is now playing top flight Kenyan club football.

The club has drained the lawyer financially, but to him, unlike many people who own football clubs as a journey of self-actualisation, his is a passion for the game as he explained to Nation Sport.

"I love football and that keeps me going. If it wasn't for the passion then I would have given up and opted to focus on my professional career in law," said Ochieng.

"What started as a vehicle for socialising and training after work is now a professional football club and I cannot give up on this now," he said.

Back to the email. Mark Danyi, a former Hungarian footballer, was interested in acquiring majority shareholding in Zoo FC. He tabled an irresistible Sh10 million initial offer.

Former Mathare United and Kenya international George Owino acted as the middleman.

"Dear Ken, I understand you are in contact with my agent in Kenya Mr George Owino. I have on several occasions asked my agent to lookout for a club in Kenya. Basically we are keen to run a club in Africa. Our objective is to nurture young talent, sell them at a profitable price. We have good contacts in Europe and Asian countries to sell players," the email from Mark Danyi read in part.

"Kindly note that we are keen to purchase 51 percent stake in your club with full authority to run the club. As mentioned by our agent we believe $100,000 (approximately Sh10 million) is a reasonable and fair price to purchase 51 per cent stake in Kenya."

To sound more professional and serious, Danyi continued to emphasise in the email that he would need to conduct due diligence on the club.

"We would like to know if there are outstanding debts the club has at the moment. We need the financial accounts of 2018 to study the cost involved to run the club and we may require other details if necessary before the signing of the agreement.

"We request that you draw out a memorandum of understanding with all your clauses for our perusal," his mail read.

Danyi's e-mail signature indicated that he was acting on behalf of TSMC Sports Consultancy and he also shared his Hungarian mobile number. Nation Sport has since established that the company itself is non-existent and Danyi was doing all these to sound professional and win the heart of Ochieng.

After a series of e-mail exchanges, Ochieng would eventually find out that Danyi was not genuinely interested in acquiring the club.

The former Hungarian footballer has a history in match-fixing. In 2013, his move to Austrian second-tier side SV Loipersbach was blocked by the Hungarian Football Federation (HFF) as he had been suspended for match manipulation in Hungary.

The HFF wrote to the Austrian Football Association, Fifa and the club informing them of their intention to open legal proceedings against Danyi.

In 2014, while standing trial in Hungary, serial match-fixer Wilson Raj Perumal admitted Danyi was an accomplice in his Hungarian adventure.

"The two are close allies and nothing much has changed about their mode of operation. They will also target vulnerable clubs with the intention of taking over and controlling operations so that they can easily fix matches," a reliable source tells Nation Sport.

In 2016, Perumal was again in Finland and tried to buy Atlantis FC under a new name.

"African clubs are always easy prey for match-fixers and for a while the script has always been the same. Approach financially-struggling clubs with offers to buy stakes in the club, ensure that they come with several foreign players into the club -- mostly central defenders and a goalkeeper and in most cases a new coach too. These are the people who will be under clear instructions to fix the games," the source, who sought anonymity, added.

"He started working for Wilson Raj Peremul around 2012," Alesandro D'Addario, a fraud investigator, who was actively involved in the global investigation into match-fixing in professional football from 2013 says.

The investigation centred on the influence of organised crime syndicates based in Asia on the results of 380 football matches played in 15 countries around the world, in which 425 match officials, club officials, players, and criminals were under suspicion.

Danyi's plan at Zoo might have failed in this particular case but his role in the rampant match-fixing that has bedevilled the Kenyan Premier League (KPL) cannot be ignored.

Former Kenyan International, George Owino, whom Danyi describes as his agent in Kenya, was mid-last year banned for 10 years by the world football governing body for attempted match-fixing.

Reports indicated that Owino was involved in manipulating up to 14 matches while making promises of potential transfers abroad. It is interesting to note that this is the same line of lie Danyi, through Owino, approached Zoo with.

In a past interview with Al Jazeera, Perumal confessed to having helped Nigeria qualify for the 2010 World Cup in South Africa through his links in the Harambee Stars camp. He flew to Nairobi a day before Kenya hosted the Super Eagles at Kasarani on November 14, 2009, to seal the deal.

"I've got two or three players in the Kenyan team and they'll ensure Nigeria win on the day ... two of them were starting in the match while one was on the bench, I spoke to the players and they agreed to help Nigeria win," he revealed.

Nigeria beat Kenya 3-2 to book a ticket to the World Cup in South Africa as Group "B" leaders after Mozambique shocked favourites Tunisia 1-0.

Perumal -- in a bid to ensure his gamble worked -- promised Mozambique a bonus of $100,000 (about Sh10m) to get a positive result against the Carthage Eagles.

The Kenyan players went to the hotel after the match to collect the money in vain. "They came to the room and Wilson was telling them he lost, they (players) said 'how could you lose', he said 'I told you it must be two clear goals'. I didn't see them getting money from Wilson because he was not in the mood to talk to anyone," Perumal's friend Manimaran Kalimuthu, who had travelled alongside him to Nairobi told Al Jazeera.

It is the same Danyi, whom we have established has close ties with internationally renowned match-fixer Perumal that introduced Living 3D Holdings to another Kenyan Premier League (KPL) side Sofapaka.

Living 3D Holdings came with a set of foreign players and a Portuguese coach Divaldo Alves, who also has a match-fixing history as this writer uncovered in previous articles.

Their ploy to fix matches in Kenya might have been temporarily halted with Fifa, in collaboration with Football Kenya Federation, now actively investigating cases of match manipulation in the league but the effect of the vice in Kenyan football will take long to erase.

Efforts to reach Danyi for a comment on the allegations proved futile as the he did not respond to various inquiries via e-mail and WhatsApp.

Efforts to find out if indeed Danyi is a certified match and player agent and if he is currently under investigation for match manipulation were unsuccessful as Fifa did not respond to the queries by the time of publication of this article.

In February, Fifa banned four players for alleged match-fixing in the Kenyan Premier League during the 2019 season.

These included three Kenyan players, Moses Chikati, Festo Omukoto, and Festus Okiring who were banned from all football-related activities for four years.

The other was Ugandan George Mandela, who was banned for life.

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