Top crook cooks up false footballers

Risto Berendson
, reporter
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Photo: Peeter Lilleväli / Põhjarannik

Behind the greatest football fraud in Estonian stands a leading figure in Ida-Viru County criminal circles, the convicted murderer Valeri Mihhailov.

Understandably, criminal police is keenly interested in Golova (The Head), as Mr Mihhailov (45) is known in the underworld. Thus, for quite a while the police knew that the man, released early from jail in 2007, may be linked to football match-fixing.

A couple of years ago, investigators were dealing with a case of Mr Mihhailov allegedly threatening policemen, stumbling upon intriguing information. From phone calls by Golova, the investigators noted that the man, outwardly distant from football, is in communication with players – in conversations, names of many Narva Trans key players were mentioned.

Soon, central criminal police was helped by having the information while searching into betting fraud. Namely: when reports by BetRadar, created to discover international betting fraud, pointed to possible links of Narva Trans to match-fixing, Public Prosecutor’s Office received an application of criminal offence from Estonia’s football association.

After a year and a half of intensive search, the police think they have put the puzzle together. «During criminal proceedings, it became evident the problem was not limited to one club,» seas leading investigator Silver Koorts. «It’s an issue of persons, not a definite club. The problem is extremely deep and I do not believe it could be solved by criminal proceedings alone.»

To sum it up, allegations go like follows: the so-called betting fraud stakes were made in Asian offices; the persons behind the fraud probably come from Russia and they have been impossible to establish during the criminal proceedings.

In the entire criminal scheme, Golova was a link – the one who was supposed to find footballers in Estonia, Lithuania or Ukraine, via his contacts. The fee for one fixed match was €7,000-12,000, to be distributed between the players involved in the scheme.

Bribing Lithuanians and Ukrainians did not prove as successful as home in Estonia, where Golova was familiar with personal weaknesses of several players. One such man being the goalkeeper Sergei Ussoltsev (38), infamous in football circles, who has also played abroad and has been linked to match-fixing before.

Getting a goalkeeper aboard is one of the safest ways to guarantee the intended result – a defeat, for instance. It is also effective to bribe a defender, tasked then not to try too hard at decisive moments.

Generally, securing the cooperation of three-four players is enough to get the expected result – thus, the risk to get caught is smaller and the money earned by cheaters bigger. To earn extra €2,000 on a match is, for a false player usually equals at least two monthly salaries.

Pursuant to statement of charges by Public Prosecutor’s Office, ten Estonian champion’s league players have to join Mr Ussoltsev before court. Eight of them were linked with Narva Trans, two with Tallinn Kalev. At times, they also represented Sillamäe Kalev. According to accusations, the players earned €108,000 from June 2011 to November 2012.

All alleged false players were removed from active football last year already.

The only one of these, attempting to rehabilitate himself in the football association, was the legendary Maksim Gruznov, the all-time best of championship league with 304 goals scored – unbeatable, probably, for long years to come. The experienced player, now 39, obviously knows a lot about football and, therefore, understandably desired to stay on in the sport as a coach.

False players, however, are to totally distance themselves from football. Therefore, with tears in his eyes, Mr Gruznov swore to Football Association head Aivar Pohlak that he was innocent. Alas: evidence possessed by investigators proved otherwise.

The list of alleged false players also includes Vitali Gussev, a player with international experience and a perspective national team candidate a while ago. None of the men has pleaded guilty.

Postimees has been able to have a look at an email by Erik Grigorjev (27), a younger player at Narva Trans, to the Football Association dating February 12th this year. In it, the sportsman writes that he is in no way linked to the fixed matches he stands accused in, expressing his desire to continue playing at a second league club in Tartu. «I really am not guilty. I must not do such monkey business. I am not a man who betrays,» writes Mr Grigorjev.

Still, he has his name in the accused’ list. While the criminal grouping mainly focussed on Ida-Viru County, the list also included two Tallinn Kalev players – former players, by now.


Ussoltsev’s counsel considers accusation absurd

Sworn advocate Sven Sillar, acting as counsel to goalkeeper Sergei Ussoltsev claims accusation by Public Prosecutor’s Office null and void as Penal Code does not specify betting fraud as criminal offence. «Penal Code does indeed explain various forms of fraudulent behaviour, but it does not mention betting fraud,» says Mr Sillar. «This is the first time ever an accusation like this is taken to court.»

According to him, the entire case rests of ice extremely thin. The victims – the Asian betting offices – have not applied for compensation by the accused. «They are talking about huge damages, yet it has not explicitly been proven,» says Mr Sillar.

The layer points out the peculiarities of accusations towards the man defended by him. «Talking about Mr Ussoltsev: the foreign betting offices have not presented any figures, as evidence against him. The accusations include some ridiculous stakes laid in Triobet – that he staked five euros and earned two and a half euros of profit. Or that he staked ten euros and got €17 back. Had Mr Ussoltsev known these matches had been fixed, he would have made stakes to earn money and the sums would have been larger. Logical , isn’t it.»

Footballers hired by leading criminal

The leading figure in the betting fraud, Valeri Mihhailov, was a top doer in Ida-Viru County underworld, in last century. Having attempted to exercise control, criminally, over affairs in Ida-Viru County, Mr Mihhailov aka Golova is at liberty for six years and has meanwhile earned another criminal punishment at a court of first instance.

Golova’s latest court case involves threatening, in 2009, when Mr Mihhailov managed to entangle a once high level security police official Dmitri Antonov, now working as security manager at Sillamäe Port.

Also, the criminal case involves beating a policeman, threatening and insulting of policemen in 2011. The criminal conviction of Golova has been contested in circuit court by his counsel, sworn lawyer Küllike Namm.

Golova gained notoriety in January 1st 1994 at a shootout in front of a bar in Kohtla-Järve, in which three people died. The man, limping one leg due to injuries in the shootout, was under threat of death penalty as demanded by prosecutor. Even so, Kohtla-Järve city court sentenced him, in 1995, for 15 years of imprisonment for two murders, an attempted murder, extortion, hooliganism and illegal gun-ownership.

Fraudster to forsake sports

According to Estonian Football Association information chief Mihkel Uiboleht, betting fraud is problem No 1 in the world of sports – even worse than doping.

It is estimated that at the European topmost Champions league level, every years brings about 300 fixed matches out of the total of 33,000. «Although the big leagues in Italy and Germany have not been excluded, still the fraudsters feel safer making stakes at games in smaller and unknown leagues,» says Mr Uiboleht.

According to Mr Uiboleht, we find ourselves in a situation where investors involved in fraud are looking for opportunities to invest into clubs in financial straits. Thus, later they might be able to have a direct say in how the clubs are supposed to operate. «As a rule, such investors come from Asia. Of Estonian champions and fist league clubs, four or five have received investment proposals which do not look rational, on the surface,» says Mr Uiboleht.

The SportRadar system developed to weed out betting fraud daily analyses about a hundred million situations, surfacing the most extraordinary stakes for further investigation.

Thus, every player develops a personal coefficient. Once the coefficient crosses a critical limit, local football associations will have the right to ban them from playing, automatically applying internationally. «Basically that person will have to say goodbye to football, as he may not be involved as player, coach neither any other way. Should a club violate the rule, FIFA will severely punish it,» says Mr Uiboleht.


Alleged match-fixing

Estonian Champions League:

•    July 12th, 2011, Sillamäe Kalev – Narva Trans 2:5

•    September 27th, 2011, Ajax Lasnamäe – Narva Trans 0:12

•    October 22nd, 2011, Narva Trans – Levadia Tallinn 0:2

•    October 29th, 2011, FC Flora Tallinn – Narva Trans 1:1

•    March 20th, 2012, Tallinn Kalev – Narva Trans 0:0

•    April 7th, 2012, Nõmme Kalju – Narva Trans 4:1

•    May 19th, 2012, Narva Trans – Nõmme Kalju 1:2

•    June 2nd, 2012, Narva Trans – Tartu Tammeka 2:0

•    June 9th, 2012, Narva Trans – Tallinn Kalev 5:1

•    June 16th, 2012, Tallinn Kalev – Nõmme Kalju 0:5

•    July 23rd, 2012, Tallinn Kalev – Tallinn Levadia 0:6

•    September 27th, 2011, Sillamäe Kalev – Tallinn FC Flora 0:6

European League games:

•    June 30th, 2011, Narva Trans – FK Rabotnički 1:4

•    July 7th, 2011, FK Rabotnički – Narva Trans 3:0

•    July 5th, 2012, Narva Trans – İnter Bakı PİK 0:5

Estonian Cup game:

•    May 26th, 2012, Narva Trans – FC Levadia Tallinn 0:3

A game in Lithuania:

•    October 15th, 2011, FK Kruoja Pakruojis – FBK Kaunas 0:4