One of the world's pre-eminent match fixing experts says New Zealand cricketers are the "perfect target" for corruption.
Ed Hawkins wrote Bookie Gambler Fixer Spy: A Journey to the Heart of Cricket's Underworld which cricket almanack Wisden voted its 2012 Book of the Year. He went undercover in several Indian cities and spent time with bookmakers and alleged match-fixers as part of his research.
Hawkins spoke to the Herald on Sunday following news former national representatives Chris Cairns, Daryl Tuffey and Lou Vincent are being investigated by the International Cricket Council's Anti-Corruption and Security Unit over match-fixing allegations. He says while those accused are innocent until proven guilty, he's "not surprised at all" by the circumstances.
"New Zealanders are more vulnerable than most. They're the perfect target for match-fixers because they don't earn a lot of money by international standards. There's a gulf between what most New Zealand players would earn compared to English players. I think that's possibly unfair at times, given some of the New Zealand talent in recent years, but that's the reality. Pakistan and Sri Lankan players are similarly vulnerable.
"This scenario highlights match fixing as a problem not necessarily confined to the Asian subcontinent. Players can slot into franchise teams around the world, especially on the subcontinent, where betting is illegal, and pick up bad habits which they take home. Match fixing becomes a plague.
"It's like going to Ibiza when you're 18 and picking up something nasty which subsequently gets spread upon return."
Captains, opening batsmen or opening bowlers are seen as ideal targets for match-fixers. Openers are guaranteed to be involved at the start of an innings while captains can dictate fielding positions.
"We've got to consider human nature, too," Hawkins says. "One school of thought suggests it doesn't matter what you earn because greed is a natural flaw in some psyches. In that case, it wouldn't matter what they were paid."
Hawkins says one critique of the ICC investigation is that they target past players rather than rooting out incumbents.
"The ACSU are often criticised but it appears they've got one hand tied behind their back as to what they can do. The three who are being investigated are all former players which effectively makes them 'soft kills' if they were found guilty. I wonder sometimes if the ICC lets its department go for anyone else."
In fairness to the ACSU, sources say their powers are often limited. Most employees are former policemen who don't have the powers of investigation of the police force. They are also often hindered by the politics of boards and governments which prevent them from enacting simple surveillance activities like phone taps.
Hawkins says tracking the flow of money through illegal betting markets is also difficult. The hawala transaction system is commonly used on the subcontinent where no money moves physically between locations; it is transferred by means of a telephone call or fax between countries. No legal contracts are involved, and, according to The Economist, recipients are given only a code number or simple token, such as a low-value banknote torn in half, to prove money is due. Over time, transactions in opposite directions cancel each other out, which minimised the need for movement. If an imbalance builds, cash or jewellery are carried across borders, trade invoices are adjusted, or conventional banks are used. Ironically the system is built on trust between bookmakers and fixers. A paper trail is largely non-existent under the hawala system, which Hawkins says would also apply in New Zealand.
"Operators often pay players in soft assets like cars or flats. A common way is to buy player flats in Dubai or the UAE [United Arab Emirates]. Indian operators will find a friend-of-a-friend in New Zealand who they can trust and eventually, if a cash withdrawal is required, it might come in a brown paper bag."
Nor is match fixing confined to international level. In fact, lower level sport can be preferable. Two British footballers admitted on Friday to helping fix matches in Australia in a 1.2 million scam for a global betting syndicate. Reiss Noel and Joe Woolley, both 24, pleaded guilty at Melbourne magistrates' court to conduct that corrupts a betting outcome and were fined 1100 and 650 respectively.
The pair played for Southern Stars in the Victorian Premier League and used to play in England's non-league system. Segaran Gsubramaniam, 45, the Malaysian ringleader, also pleaded guilty and will be sentenced next year. A coach and two further Southern Stars players are awaiting trial.