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The rise and fall of a match-fixing tennis prodigy

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By BBC SPORT
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Karim Hossam was one of the best young tennis players in the world. He looked set to play at the biggest tournaments, with the top players of the game.

Instead he was sucked into one of the biggest match-fixing rings yet discovered in a sport riddled with corruption. The BBC’s Simon Cox and Paul Grant use confidential documents to tell the story of his downfall.

It was inside a modest hotel room in Tunisia in June 2017 that Karim Hossam’s tennis career started to unravel. Across from the 24-year-old sat two former British police detectives. They were investigators for the Tennis Integrity Unit, which probes corruption within the game, and they suspected Karim had been fixing matches. In a series of interviews over six months he revealed how four years earlier he had become a part of one of the biggest match-fixing rings in tennis.

The International Tennis Federation Futures tournament at Sharm el-Sheikh is a distant cousin to the glamour, money and crowds of Wimbledon or the French Open. Played at a small tennis club next to a shopping mall, there is a smattering of spectators and the prize money for the whole tournament is $15,000 (£11,500, Sh1.5 million) – about a quarter of the sum made by a first-round loser at Wimbledon.

Karim Hossam had already won the tournament four times when he arrived to compete there again in 2013. Still only 20, the young Egyptian player was the great hope for North African tennis.

As one of the best junior players in the world, hovering on the edge of the top 10, he had started to play in the big ATP (Association of Tennis Professionals) tournaments with the stars of the sport. He’d played at the Australian Open and the French Open, but the ITF (International Tennis Federation) tournament at Sharm was one of the many around the world where thousands of lower-ranked players try to scrape a living.

Karim Hossam was preparing for a match when a player he didn’t know well approached him. “Do you want to lose the match and get $1,000 (£770)?” he asked. The same player had contacted Hossam months earlier, at the Qatar Open, asking if he wanted to lose the first set for $1,000. On that occasion he was facing one of the world’s best players, Richard Gasquet – then ranked ninth in the world, some 300 places above Hossam – and he replied: “I’m playing Gasquet, I’m not here to sell a match.”
But in Sharm el-Sheikh it was different. It didn’t really matter if he won or lost and after thinking it over Hossam decided to go ahead with it. He told the investigators, “I just wanted to try it because I never tried it… I thought this guy was actually like lying to me… I didn’t know that betting existed.” The player wasn’t lying, though, and after losing the match Hossam went with him to a local branch of Western Union to get his money.

The gamblers behind this would have made much more than $1,000, and would have bet on other matches too, often making multiple bets on one match. “Having that insider knowledge of people involved in match-fixing in a specific sport particularly tennis… you can really make some fairly decent money,” says Fred Lord, Director for Ant-Ccorruption at the International Centre of Sport Security in Qatar. “We’re talking figures around about half a million euros.”

What Karim Hossam didn’t realise was that he had sold his career for $1,000. Being found guilty of a single offence by the tennis authorities is punishable by a lifetime ban from the game.

Hossam couldn’t keep it to himself so he told his father, who had helped to finance his career. He told investigators his father “was really pissed and he was like, ‘You’re ruining your life'”.

After this first offence, Hossam said, he tried for a while to avoid doing it again. But he also thought that if he had more money it would be easier to advance his career. “I wanted to go play big tournaments, you know, like I was going to the US for camp or whatever and I needed money,” he said.
So he continued taking money to lose, and before long he was also acting as a fixer, the middleman between gamblers and players. Sometimes it involved losing a match, or on other occasions a single set. It depended what the gamblers wanted and what got them the best odds.

He spent the next four years helping to fix dozens of matches in Egypt, Tunisia and Nigeria, typically earning $200 for a $1,000 fix. A cache of confidential documents seen by the BBC shows how the young player arranged the fixes through Facebook messages with dozens of North African players. In May 2016 he contacts a player with an offer: “Bro. You lose first set then win the match. You get 2,500.” The figures were always in dollars.

When the other player agrees to this, Hossam makes sure he understands his instructions: “So you will lose the first set then win the match. Do you surely understand?” The player responds, “Score is not important. I just need to lose first set?”

He is reassured by Hossam: “Most important thing is you drop the set then win.” The player tells Hossam, “Hopefully it’s OK because I need the money.” They carry on messaging throughout the afternoon but there’s a hitch and the fix doesn’t go through.

On other occasions it runs more smoothly. In August 2016 he messages another player in the early hours of the morning: “One set for 3,000.” Intrigued by the offer, the player replies, “How much to lose?” and he is told, “Lose for 3,000 my friend.” In the event the player did lose.

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The documents the BBC has seen implicate more than 20 players, most of them from North Africa, in either directly fixing matches or failing to tell the authorities when they were approached. Any player who is approached and asked to fix a match has to report it and failure to do so is an offence that can lead to a lengthy ban.

In June 2017 the tennis anti-corruption authorities finally caught up with him.

In his first interview with investigators he told them how he was drawn into fixing.

“I just couldn’t afford playing any more and like my dad was paying for me, and then my dad has to pay for my brother as well, and then I wasn’t getting any income,” he says, the transcript shows.

After the interview ends he messages his younger brother, Youssef, who is also a professional tennis player.

“They caught me in my room bro,” he writes. “And I was stupid I didn’t delete some things.”

Hossam tells his brother he is hopeful of escaping any tough sanctions by co-operating with the authorities. “I am telling them I want to work with them. Would be (expletive) great if that is possible. I travel and get money to catch all the fixers.”

That wasn’t how it turned out. Days after he was interviewed by the Tennis Integrity Unit, Karim Hossam was provisionally banned from playing tennis. That same day he messaged a fellow player telling him about the ban but vowing, “I am gonna bet even more now.”

By the time of his final interview, in January 2018, Karim Hossam says he has been reduced to coaching children. The investigators ask if he will give evidence against the player who first corrupted him.

“We feel very strongly that if he’s done that to you he’s probably done it to other people and he’s probably still doing it,” one of the investigators tells him. “So he’s somebody, I’m sure you would agree, you would want to get out of tennis, because he is a danger because he grooms young players… If it wasn’t for him you may never be where you are today.”

Karim had hoped there would be some benefit for him in co-operating with the Tennis Integrity Unit, and seems disappointed that he has got nothing out of it.

“I gave a lot of information. I didn’t really lie about anything, I was open,” he tells them.

“But receiving a lifetime ban in tennis, I mean I’ve been playing tennis for 17 years, I was only forced to do this under circumstances… So pretty much like I don’t see any like benefits from my side… I honestly don’t have any more evidence… I don’t have any more chats.”

In July 2018 Karim Hossam was banned for life. But the confidential files the BBC has seen show he continued to try to corrupt the sport.

In August 2018 he has a long conversation with a player to whom he offers $3,500 (Sh350,000) to lose a set by a specific score. In the end, word gets out the match is fixed and the gambler backs off. Karim Hossam suspects one of the players has talked. “My friend we need men not babies,” he tells him.

The BBC contacted Karim Hossam to ask him about these messages and his contact with other players but he didn’t respond.

The documents reveal one of the largest match-fixing rings in tennis ever discovered, implicating more than 20 mostly North African players. Last month police in Spain arrested 15 people in a match-fixing ring said to involve 28 Spanish players linked to an Armenian gambling ring. Armenian gamblers were also involved in a match-fixing ring uncovered by Belgian police in June 2018. The files the BBC has seen show that one of Karim’s contacts was an Armenian.

Most of the players in this match-fixing ring have not been sanctioned. And the player who first corrupted Karim Hossam – the one investigators wanted him to testify against – is still playing professional tennis.

The documents seen by the BBC have been sent to the Tennis Integrity Unit, and the whistleblower who contacted the BBC is critical of the unit’s response.

“The TIU are ineffective because their processes are inefficient and slow. They receive evidence about someone and their investigation is ended two years later,” he says.

“I had a player tell me he is definitely going to get a lifetime ban soon and is going to go out with a bang in the last couple of tournaments he is going to play. Why allow players this chance?”

The Tennis Integrity Unit said it was at the forefront of the fight against sporting corruption, and had successfully prosecuted 44 people in the last two years – 16 of whom were given lifetime bans. It added that it couldn’t comment on ongoing investigations as “public disclosure would inevitably alert suspects and allow credible evidence to be discarded or destroyed”.

In 2018 an independent review panel looked into the integrity of tennis after a BBC News and BuzzFeed investigation revealed suspected illegal betting. It said the Tennis Integrity Unit had a backlog of cases and that there was a “tsunami” of corruption within the sport.

The sport’s governing body, the International Tennis Federation, told the BBC: “We are committed to protecting the integrity of tennis and putting in place the necessary measures to do that”. But it conceded, “there is a significant amount of work to do.”



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General

Sordid tale of the bank ‘that would bribe God’

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Bank of Credit and Commerce International. August 1991. [File, Standard]

“This bank would bribe God.” These words of a former employee of the disgraced Bank of Credit and Commerce International (BCCI) sum up one of the most rotten global financial institutions.
BCCI pitched itself as a top bank for the Third World, but its spectacular collapse would reveal a web of transnational corruption and a playground for dictators, drug lords and terrorists.
It was one of the largest banks cutting across 69 countries and its aftermath would cause despair to innocent depositors, including Kenyans.
BCCI, which had $20 billion (Sh2.1 trillion in today’s exchange rate) assets globally, was revealed to have lost more than its entire capital.
The bank was founded in 1972 by the crafty Pakistani banker Agha Hasan Abedi.
He was loved in his homeland for his charitable acts but would go on to break every rule known to God and man.
In 1991, the Bank of England (BoE) froze its assets, citing large-scale fraud running for several years. This would see the bank cease operations in multiple countries. The Luxembourg-based BCCI was 77 per cent owned by the Gulf Emirate of Abu Dhabi.  
BoE investigations had unearthed laundering of drugs money, terrorism financing and the bank boasted of having high-profile customers such as Panama’s former strongman Manual Noriega as customers.
The Standard, quoting “highly placed” sources reported that Abu Dhabi ruler Sheikh Zayed Sultan would act as guarantor to protect the savings of Kenyan depositors.
The bank had five branches countrywide and panic had gripped depositors on the state of their money.
Central Bank of Kenya (CBK) would then move to appoint a manager to oversee the operations of the BCCI operations in Kenya.
It sent statements assuring depositors that their money was safe.
The Standard reported that the Sheikh would be approaching the Kenyan and other regional subsidiaries of the bank to urge them to maintain operations and assure them of his personal support.
It was said that contact between CBK and Abu Dhabi was “likely.”
This came as the British Ambassador to the UAE Graham Burton implored the gulf state to help compensate Britons, and the Indian government also took similar steps.
The collapse of BCCI was, however, not expect to badly hit the Kenyan banking system. This was during the sleazy 1990s when Kenya’s banking system was badly tested. It was the era of high graft and “political banks,” where the institutions fraudulently lent to firms belonging or connected to politicians, who were sometimes also shareholders.
And even though the impact was expected to be minimal, it was projected that a significant number of depositors would transfer funds from Asian and Arab banks to other local institutions.
“Confidence in Arab banking has taken a serious knock,” the “highly placed” source told The Standard.
BCCI didn’t go down without a fight. It accused the British government of a conspiracy to bring down the Pakistani-run bank.  The Sheikh was said to be furious and would later engage in a protracted legal battle with the British.
“It looks to us like a Western plot to eliminate a successful Muslim-run Third World Bank. We know that it often acted unethically. But that is no excuse for putting it out of business, especially as the Sultan of Abu Dhabi had agreed to a restructuring plan,” said a spokesperson for British Asians.
A CBK statement signed by then-Deputy Governor Wanjohi Murithi said it was keenly monitoring affairs of the mother bank and would go to lengths to protect Kenyan depositors.
“In this respect, the CBK has sought and obtained the assurance of the branch’s management that the interests of depositors are not put at risk by the difficulties facing the parent company and that the bank will meet any withdrawal instructions by depositors in the normal course of business,” said Mr Murithi.
CBK added that it had maintained surveillance of the local branch and was satisfied with its solvency and liquidity.
This was meant to stop Kenyans from making panic withdrawals.
For instance, armed policemen would be deployed at the bank’s Nairobi branch on Koinange Street after the bank had announced it would shut its Kenyan operations.
In Britain, thousands of businesses owned by British Asians were on the verge of financial ruin following the closure of BCCI.
Their firms held almost half of the 120,000 bank accounts registered with BCCI in Britain. 
The African Development Bank was also not spared from this mess, with the bulk of its funds deposited and BCCI and stood to lose every coin.
Criminal culture
In Britain, local authorities from Scotland to the Channel Islands are said to have lost over £100 million (Sh15.2 billion in today’s exchange rate).
The biggest puzzle remained how BCCI was allowed by BoE and other monetary regulation authorities globally to reach such levels of fraudulence.
This was despite the bank being under tight watch owing to the conviction of some of its executives on narcotics laundering charges in the US.
Coast politician, the late Shariff Nassir, would claim that five primary schools in Mombasa lost nearly Sh1 million and appealed to then Education Minister George Saitoti to help recover the savings. Then BoE Governor Robin Leigh-Pemberton condemned it as so deeply immersed in fraud that rescue or recovery – at least in Britain – was out of the question.
“The culture of the bank is criminal,” he said. The bank was revealed to have targeted the Third World and had created several “institutional devices” to promote its operations in developing countries.
These included the Third World Foundation for Social and Economic Studies, a British-registered charity.
“It allowed it to cultivate high-level contacts among international statesmen,” reported The Observer, a British newspaper.
BCCI also arranged an annual Third World lecture and a Third World prize endowment fund of about $10 million (Sh1 billion in today’s exchange rate).
Winners of the annual prize had included Nelson Mandela (1985), sir Bob Geldof (1986) and Archbishop Desmond Tutu (1989).
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Tracking and monitoring motor vehicles is not new to Kenyans. Competition to install affordable tracking devices is fierce but essential for fleet managers who receive reports online and track vehicles from the comfort of their desk.

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Agricultural Development Corporation Chief Accountant Gerald Karuga on the Spot Over Fraud –

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Gerald Karuga, the acting chief accountant at the Agricultural Development Corporation (ADC), is on the spot over fraud in land dealings.

ADC was established in 1965 through an Act of Parliament Cap 346 to facilitate the land transfer programme from European settlers to locals after Kenya gained independence.

Karuga is under fire for allegedly aiding a former powerful permanent secretary in the KANU era Benjamin Kipkulei to deprive ADC beneficiaries of their land in Naivasha.

Kahawa Tungu understands that the aggrieved parties continue to protest the injustice and are now asking the Ethics and Anti-corruption Commission (EACC) and the Directorate of Criminal Investigations (DCI) to probe Karuga.

A source who spoke to Weekly Citizen publication revealed that Managing Director Mohammed Dulle is also involved in the mess at ADC.

Read: Ministry of Agriculture Apologizes After Sending Out Tweets Portraying the President in bad light

Dulle is accused of sidelining a section of staffers in the parastatal.

The sources at ADC intimated that Karuga has been placed strategically at ADC to safeguard interests of many people who acquired the corporations’ land as “donations” from former President Daniel Arap Moi.

Despite working at ADC for many years Karuga has never been transferred, a trend that has raised eyebrows.

“Karuga has worked here for more than 30 years and unlike other senior officers in other parastatals who are transferred after promotion or moved to different ministries, for him, he has stuck here for all these years and we highly suspect that he is aiding people who were dished out with big chunks of land belonging to the corporation in different parts of the country,” said the source.

In the case of Karuga safeguarding Kipkulei’s interests, workers at the parastatals and the victims who claim to have lost their land in Naivasha revealed that during the Moi regime some senior officials used dubious means to register people as beneficiaries of land without their knowledge and later on colluded with rogue land officials at the Ministry of Lands to acquire title deeds in their names instead of those of the benefactors.

Read Also: Galana Kulalu Irrigation Scheme To Undergo Viability Test Before Being Privatised

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“We have information that Karuga has benefitted much from Kipkulei through helping him and this can be proved by the fact that since the matter of the Naivasha land began, he has been seen changing and buying high-end vehicles that many people of his rank in government can’t afford to buy or maintain,” the source added.

“He is even building a big apartment for rent in Ruiru town.”

The wealthy officer is valued at over Sh1.5 billion in prime properties and real estate.

Last month, more than 100 squatters caused scenes in Naivasha after raiding a private firm owned by Kipkulei.

The squatters, who claimed to have lived on the land for more than 40 years, were protesting take over of the land by a private developer who had allegedly bought the land from the former PS.

They pulled down a three-kilometre fence that the private developed had erected.

The squatters claimed that the former PS had not informed them that he had sold the land and that the developer was spraying harmful chemicals on the grass affecting their livestock and homes built on a section of the land.

Read Also: DP Ruto Wants NCPB And Other Agricultural Bodies Merged For Efficiency

Naivasha Deputy County Commissioner Kisilu Mutua later issued a statement warning the squatters against encroaching on Kipkuleir’s land.

“They are illegally invading private land. We shall not allow the rule of the jungle to take root,” warned Mutua.

Meanwhile, a parliamentary committee recently demanded to know identities of 10 faceless people who grabbed 30,350 acres of land belonging to the parastatal, exposing the rot at the corporation.

ADC Chairman Nick Salat, who doubles up as the KANU party Secretary-General, denied knowledge of the individuals and has asked DCI to probe the matter.

Email your news TIPS to [email protected] or WhatsApp +254708677607. You can also find us on Telegram through www.t.me/kahawatungu

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William Ruto eyes Raila Odinga Nyanza backyard

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Deputy President William Ruto will next month take his ‘hustler nation’ campaigns to his main rival, ODM leader Raila Odinga’s Nyanza backyard, in an escalation of the 2022 General Election competition.

Acrimonious fall-out

Development agenda

Won’t bear fruit

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