Betraying the Game: Anas Aremeyaw Anas investigates football in Africa – BBC Africa Eye documentary

Anas Aremeyaw Anas – one of the most high profile and controversial African journalists. An undercover specialist, he never shows his face. For two years, he’s been unlocking the secrets of African football. The tension is so high.

It’s football and it’s Ghana. And the people have cried for far too long. Almost one hundred match officials captured on camera taking money when they shouldn’t.

One of them a referee meant to be running the line at the World Cup in Russia. Another – A FIFA executive who is one of the most powerful figures in African football. With the World Cup just days away, this is the inside story of Anas’s most explosive and controversial investigation to date.

This is what football feels like in Ghana. Passion, fun and love of the beautiful game. This is the El Classico of Ghana – Asante Kotoko versus Hearts of Oak with Hearts just snatching a famous victory against their bitter rivals. Without doubt football is the most popular sport in Ghana.

We see a football as a passion of the nation. It is part of the country, it’s a culture, it’s a tradition. But for these players and the fans that adore them, their world is about to turn upside down. An undercover team has spent almost two years laying the sport’s secrets bare.

This investigation, it seeks to look at football. When this story comes, there’s going to be a lot of trouble. The entire football systems would all collapse. Their key targets were the men in the middle – referees and assistant referees with the power to change the course of matches.

Getting ready for the crucial match. Match Day in Ghana Premiere League right here live. Tensions are very high. Kotoko and Accra Hearts of Oak game. Kotoko and Hearts of Oak are the two biggest clubs in Ghana and in African football circles. Any meeting between the two sides is obviously the biggest game in Ghanaian footballing calendar.

Face to face. Hearts of Oak still want to be made champions. We are 100% better than Kotoko. Fabulous, fabulous.. Hearts of Oak is not a club, it is a religion. Playing against Hearts of Oak, we dare not lose.

We are the porcupine warriors. This was one of the first matches we worked on. For the undercover action we have to rewind to the morning of this game. Anas wanted to see if referees and their assistants would take money.

The match officials were staying at the King David Hotel in Accra. The first time they paid the officials, there was a camera fault. So they returned the following day with another bundle of banknotes in the Ghanaian currency, cedis. Kojo, not his real name, carried the cash and filmed undercover.

We decided to go back and give them 500 cedis top up money and we told them it was a gift from supporters of Hearts of Oak. FIFA rules are very clear – no accepting gifts or any behaviour that would give rise to suspicion. The Ghanian FA rules are just as clear – no cash under any circumstances.

The undercover team found assistant referee Salifu Rahman still in his vest and explained they were giving more money from the supporters. Rahman took the 500 cedis, which are around five to the dollar, and explained how he and the referee could help. The reporters then go in search of the referee, Samuel Sukah. But they unexpectedly bump into someone else. The Match Commissioner, Mike A Okoto. An official who is supposed to stop this kind of thing happening.

An official who should throw them out. But instead… The Match Commissioner takes the money. By saying the money is for T&T, transport and travel, the undercover team create a convenient, but unethical excuse for handing over the cash.

Mr Okoto later admitted to the BBC that he had taken the money but considered it was for T&T expenses, adding the cash had not influenced the way he did his job. The hotel room of match referee, Samuel Sukah was the next call. Sukah appears distracted by his phone, but eventually takes the money.

In the closing minutes of the match, referee Sukah awards a penalty for handball to Hearts. It’s a penalty. Ahmed Adams, Samuel Sukah, whistles the penalty. They call this a penalty? Hitting someone’s back and then you call this a penalty. It’s a clear penalty.

I’m telling you, Sukah should go to heaven for awarding Hearts of Oak this penalty. It’s a clear penalty. Well, the argument will be, was it a penalty or otherwise? No, I don’t think it was a penalty. It’s not a penalty, even the commentator commented about that.

One-nil to Hearts… It was such a controversial victory, Ghana’s FA were called in. Samuel Sukah was suspended. The Match Review committee studied the footage and decided the penalty was good. And he scores. Hearts of Oak in the lead here. Brilliant penalty taken there by Vincent Atenga.

That time the goal came was very crucial but disappointing indeed. Two months after the match, Anas’ team came across Samuel Sukah again. His suspension was over and he was working at a another game. Sukah was complaining because he thought Hearts should have supported him during his suspension.

Anas’ team handed over some extra cash but he still wasn’t happy. Outside, Sukah continued complaining. It’s not possible to prove that cash did influence this match or any other match in this film.

But then Sukah appeared to claim that he might have given the penalty unfairly. We found our feet and the investigation started going. We started peeling from one layer to the other and thinking, how bigger can this investigation go?

The man behind this controversial investigation is a Ghanaian undercover specialist who has become one of the most famous journalists in Africa. His work has attracted some powerful supporters in the past. We see that spirit in courageous journalists, like Anas, who risked his life to report the truth. Anas has provided a spark for people to wake up. But he has outspoken critics, too. Some believe his methods are excessive, even dangerous.

He has set out to damage people’s interests, damage people’s image, not in accordance with the law. Anas made his name with large scale undercover exposés. In 2015, he controversially revealed that a bunch of Ghanaian judges had taken money. We got 34 judges.

It was an exciting moment. It came with threats to my life, it came with a lot of legal suits. It was a very big story. It made international headlines. But this one is bigger. Anas views football in Africa as a uniting force but he also knows, first hand, how easily things can go wrong.

I’m normally not a football person. I don’t like football but one time I had this friend who is a strong supporter of Hearts of Oak and he called me that there has been some chaotic scenes within the stadium. It was the 2001 match at Accra Sports Stadium between Hearts And Kotoko.

Violence erupted after the game and panicked supporters were crushed to death after police fired tear gas and rubber bullets into the crowd. 127 people died. The stadium’s deadly shortcomings were damned in a report. Anas says he was sent to a hospital morgue to find the body of a friend and what he saw there would mark him for life. It was a very sad spectacle when I was walking through the dead bodies.

Their crime was very simple. They loved their teams. They went to the stadium to watch a match only to end up being in a morgue.

Ghanaians see the football as our pride, having produced some of the best footballers even in the ’60s and ’70s and ’80s. Saddick Adams is one of Ghana’s leading sports journalists and an authority on the Ghanaian Game. Ghana had to go and win the African Cup of Nations four times. No other country had done that. But in recent years, the game has seen widespread allegations of corruption.

A lot of scandals. We do not see facilities. We do not see grassroot development. We do not see clubs progressing.

Where is the money in football? A football insider told Anas that there was plenty of money in the sport. But it was going to the wrong people.

Anas believed that to investigate, he would have to test the system himself. For him, it’s familiar territory. But it’s territory for which he has been heavily criticised. Charles Bentum is a leading lawyer in Accra. You are having an ordinary conversation with a friend or some acquaintance.

What actually happens is that you are being entrapped into something that you have least idea about and I think that it really, really hurts people and disturbs them. The ethics are clear how a referee is supposed to behave. So if you are seen tilting the scale of justice in favour of one team, it’s wholly unacceptable, let alone stretching your arm to collect money.

On the ground Anas’ source inside football slowly introduced undercover specialist Kojo to the world of premiership matches. Secret filming kicked off on the opening day of the 2017 season, the undercover team offering cash to match officials on a weekly basis. Referees get the equivalent of around 170 dollars a game so Anas decided his team would offer the same or a bit more – all of it strictly against football rules. Right now, getting us ready for today’s game live here at the Obuasi Len Clay Sports Stadium. Wherever you find yourself in Ghana, welcome it’s the WA MTN FA Cup competition. The FA Cup is the second most prestigious trophy in Ghana.

Once you win it, automatically you qualify for the African Confederations Cup. The referee for this match was Reginald Lathbridge, one of the most qualified refs in the country and a FIFA official. You expect that once somebody gets to the FIFA level the person has attained the height that… he becomes impossible to influence.

The night before the big game, Anas’ undercover team met up with Lathbridge and his officials in their hotel. When we got to the hotel, it’s actually quite a big hotel. I’ve never been there before, so I was worried.

There was a lot of hide and seek. Anas’ team say they want Hearts of Oak to win and tell the officials they will be carrying cash. One of the assistant referees wasn’t at the hotel. So the reporters met him in an alley near the stadium the following morning. All four officials would be paid. He was in a real hurry, he just wanted us to pay him and go.

Kennedy Bentil accepted the 800 cedis on offer. Hearts beat WA All Stars 2 – 1. And the WA fans weren’t happy… Ghana is a footballing nation but how is our referees doing significantly very poor? For WA All Stars to be kicked away in this manner, is very painful. Some refs did well out of the investigation. Twenty of them took money on more than one occasion.

And Lathbridge was one of them. Here he is accepting money before another game. By the end of his investigation, Anas’ team say they made payments to a total of 78 Ghanaian match officials. This raises serious questions about the entire outcome of the country’s premier league season. But there were deeper, darker secrets about African football to come.

Four weeks ago, Anas started a campaign to publicise the launch of his revelations. Mysterious billboards went up around the cities, teasing the public that a scoop was on the way. Anas’ publicity isn’t enough. He intends to push through a series of court cases challenging the football authorities.

Today, he’s briefing his lawyers. Now over the past two years we’ve been able to film across the length and breadth of the nation. I want to annul last year’s premier league.

The evidence is so clear. By the time you go through the evidence you will see that we have so many of them. What you just told us is mind-boggling and it hits one.

Wow… this is wow. It makes the judges exposé look rather infantile compared to the damning revelations contained in the footages I’ve just seen. They are mortgaging the future of this country causing pain to the masses.

I feel as if it is the norm. In the world of football, life was going onas usual. Inusa Musa, Hearts of Oak club captain, is aware of rumours around corruption in the game. I think about the issues, about the referees taking money, I think it’s no good. I think it’s no good because I’ve been working every day to get results. If this is true, they have been taking money, they have to stop.

This week, Anas is showing his own film about soccer’s secrets in screenings in Ghana’s big cities. When news about it broke three weeks ago, talk shows and social media lit up, positive and negative. You know why the tension is so high, it’s football, and it’s Ghana and the people have cried for far too long!

Recently you go to the stadium and they are empty, they are half-empty, because of the corruption that people see and the perception about corruption with our game. I’m getting calls from politicians, I’m getting calls from the football fraternity, I’m getting calls from security and government agencies in charge of corruption and that’s what normally happens – I mean the pressure is mounting every single minute. With so many Ghanaian match officials taking payments, Anas turned his sights to those in charge of them. In dealing with referees you needed to look at the body that is responsible for this group of people. The Referees Committee selects which officials take charge of league and cup games. Anas’ team focussed on a key committee member, Charles Dowuna.

They told him they were from the Accra side, Hearts of Oak. We wanted him and his other colleagues to always give us referees that would favour our team to win. Then, Dowuna is on the phone. At the other end of the line, a colleague on the Referees Committee.

Dowuna sets up a meeting with him for Anas’ undercover men. Dowuna proved to be a reliable fixer for Anas’ team. A week later he followed up the phone call introducing the reporters to two members of the referees committee – Umar Teni and Harry Atutornu also known as Torgbe. They get together at another petrol station. And then head down an alleyway to talk business.

Then the cash comes out. Teni takes his. But Torgbe doesn’t want to handle it… It’s again a demonstration of the total breakdown of the system that one person takes money and invites his other members of their committee to also come and take theirs.

Mr Teni later told the BBC, our interpretation of events was misleading and he had done nothing wrong. Anas moved on to an even more influential figure – Joseph Wellington. One of the top figures in West African football. He’s FIFA’s Referees Instructor for the whole of West Africa… responsible for the training of referees in 16 countries. Clearly referee Wellington is a big fish.

They are vigilant and they have everything at stake. Anas says Wellington wanted to send a middleman but the undercover team insisted on a face to face meeting. They say they told him they were representing the Hearts of Oak club and wanted his help getting the right referees for their matches.

At first, Wellington would only allow one man to approach him, since they knew each other. But the cameraman, Kojo, was carrying the cash…. Eventually, he was waved over. It was just mind-boggling. Now I started to realise that look, this particular thing was endemic, it had spread everywhere. In fact, I believe that no match played in this country was fair.

And now I started thinking, that look, let me search elsewhere, let me look at the African continent and see who else is doing what. What that meant for Anas was taking his investigation beyond the Ghanaian leagues and into the Champions League – a tournament for Africa’s top clubs. The African Champions League is the elite competition for clubs on the continent. You win your national league and you play in the CAF Champions League. Huge prize money in recent years. Would the international referees who officiate at these matches fall foul of Anas’ methods?

Denis Dembele from the Ivory Coast is one of the top referees in Africa. He came to Ghana in March to referee the Champions League game between Ghana’s Aduana Stars and the Algerian team, ES Setif. The night before the match, the reporters arranged to meet Dembele at his hotel, posing as supporters of the home team. We knew that in order to get these referees to do our bidding, we needed to pay higher and we needed to pay in dollars.

All officials at a Champions League game can earn 1100 dollars a match. Dembele listened for a while and accepted the cash and placed it on the table. So the referee was happy to take 700 dollars.

How about the other officials? This is Abou Coulibaly. Like Dembele, he’s also from the Ivory Coast.

At first, he was hesitant. Until he knew the referee was OK. The three officials pocket 700 dollars each. With the 700 dollars already paid to the referee, Anas’ layout of the game totalled 2800 dollars. The next day Aduana Stars played ES Setif of Algeria. In the 73rd minute referee Denis Dembele awarded the Ghanaians a penalty.

That gave Aduana Stars a narrow victory. The Algerian champions were so upset that their official Facebook page claimed the referee had awarded an ‘imaginary penalty.’ So it was not surprising that on social media, they were complaining. Bi Valere Gouho told the BBC that he didn’t wish to discuss the allegations. It was up to his bosses. So far Anas had paid Premier League refs, some of their bosses and elite refs who are supposed to make Champions League matches run smoothly.

Last September, Ghana hosted one of Africa’s major football tournaments. WAFU – the West African Football Union competition – brought national teams from 16 countries, promoted with this slick, professional high-energy video. On show – top players and top referees. All members of FIFA’s senior ranks. Would any of them take money off total strangers?

One of the investigators told me that they were playing a special tournament. So I felt that why not? Let me get ready with the team and let’s move there and see what we can put on our radar. The tournament was being held at the Cape Coast Sports Stadium. The officials were staying at a plush hotel an hour’s drive away. And security was tight.

We went to the main security gate. And there were even police officers sitting there. And I said, “Oh my god what are they doing here?” Our luck was that we knew one of the referees there. And when we said we were meeting a Ghanaian referee, they were comfortable with that.

Once inside, they met up with a familiar figure. Charles Dowuna. The man they had last met at a petrol station, with a fistful of their cash. Dowuna was here as a technical instructor for the tournament. He doubled as a link between us and the referees.

So he started calling them in one after the other. Dowuona set about lining up a selection of referees for Anas’ team to meet. We told these referees that we just wanted to be their friends. We are from the team Hearts of Oak.

Our team would qualify for African National Championship. Then when we meet them, we can ask them to help us. Each referee was asked for a phone number so Anas’ team would have them on call. And then, they were offered 500 dollars each. Charles Dowuna was paid a commission for each introduction.

He was very enthusiastic. Yes, he was really enjoying doing it. As the Ghana national team advanced through the WAFU tournament, the reporters also attempted to influence the officials in charge of Ghana’s games. Some of the referees seemed bewildered by the way this was happening. I think they were surprised that a technical instructor who was leading the referees in the tournament would call them in.

But the Gambian official Ebrima Jallow indicated that offers were usual. Something else was happening while Jallow was speaking. There in the background yet another ref was being lined up – led in by the hand by Charles Dowuna.

Jallow told the BBC he had never been given money to fix a match. He denied wrongdoing. As the clock ticked down to one of the big matches involving Ghana, the reporters entered the sanctity of the ref’s changing room. The man who took them there: Charles Dowuna. Dowuna urged the reporters to get on with the payments to three of the match officials.

One by one, they took the cash on offer. Aboudou Bello told the BBC the allegations were completely false and nothing like this happened. A brilliant goal gave Ghana a one-nil win over Mali. Ghana went on to win the tournament.

But there was one other winner. Charles Dowuna took a total of 2,500 dollars from Anas’ reporters. I was disappointed in these international referees. I was expecting that payments of money to these people was going to be much more dignified. But alas it was the same.

Same way of collecting money. Anas’ investigative methods have raised concerns within Ghana that he is inviting people to compromise themselves by waving money at them. As news of the football investigation began to filter out, argument raged about the ethics of what he does. It is wrong to induce somebody by an enticement of some lucrative, some big money or whatever and then turn around to say the person is corrupt. And indeed, for law, the giver is as guilty as the receiver.

So, you cannot exonerate the enticer and condemn the victim. Anas rejects the idea that his methods amount to enticement. There are rules and regulations governing every referee in every match. And the good thing about CAF and FIFA is that they remind all referees of these rules, even though they know already. Now you are coming into contact with someone who says he’s from Team Ghana and he says he’s giving you money. He gave it to you publicly in the sense that he didn’t force you to take it.

He said this is the money for you and you stretch your arm. Anas and his team had now handed over cash in dubious circumstances to referees across the whole of West Africa. What could possibly be left for him to investigate?

The answer lay across the continent in rural Kenya. This is the home of charismatic assistant referee Aden Range Marwa. A role model to many youngsters, Marwa has been preparing to represent his country at the World Cup in Russia. But back in January, Anas’ team left Ghana and travelled two thousand miles to meet him in a glamorous quarter of Casablanca. I sent my investigator to Morocco. They were living in a plush hotel together with all the referees.

The team posed as officials of the club Aduana Stars, mingling with international referees at a continental championship. They aimed to find referees willing to help them in the Champions League. When we got there, all of a sudden language barriers started and then people were not willing to talk to us. It took a while for the undercover reporters to find a referee willing to talk to them. Almost all the referees I had approached, either tells me that, “Look, it’s not allowed to meet you” or “I can’t come to your room”.

I met Marwa in a lift. I said “hi” but our conversion was cut short because he had to get out at some point. But I really wanted to talk to him. There’s this one referee friend that I have back in Ghana I told him I met this referee here. His name is Marwa.

Could he help me to talk to him? He said “yeah no problem”. Within 45 minutes he told me he had spoken to Marwa and he gave me his room number and said… I could talk to him. He would come and visit me. I was really surprised because if the junior referees decide to tell me the rules then he should know better.

Referee Marwa is offered 600 dollars. And takes it. Marwa didn’t even know whose room he had just walked into. He’s at the top of his game.

And he’s just put his career in jeopardy. Then Marwa tells the reporter how to spot the refs who can and cannot be approached in the Champions League. Since the revelations in this film, FIFA says Marwa has resigned from the World Cup refereeing team. He denied any wrongdoing. Marwa was a referee from Africa who had everything going on well for him and he would have made a solid impact on the world stage.

I feel sad about it but at the end of the day I also know that Marwa cannot be in the game of football. Not every match went the way Anas’ team asked for. Even so, a hundred and ten football officials and their bosses took money from the undercover reporters.

Anas says only three people declined and in all, there were almost 150 separate payments. But one of those payments dwarfs all others. This is the President of the Ghana Football Association, the number two in African football and one of the elite in FIFA. Kwesi Nyantakyi. Kwesi Nyantakyi is one of the towering figures of African football and even world football. He’s done a lot of incredible achievements he’s done for Ghana.

First president to send the nation to the World Cup in three consecutive times. In public, Nyantakyi has been very clear about his views on corruption. Corruption is abominable and it is not something that we want to see happening anywhere in our society including the football. Yet Nyantakyi’s own career in football has been dogged by allegations of corruption.

Allegations which have not been proven. Nyantakyi first started with a badge of anti-corruption, but then as time went on there were a barrage of accusations against him and any time these accusations came he seemed to shrug it off and would always dare people to prove it. This investigation was quite a big one. It’s also a lot of planning.

It required many people. It took about three months to properly figure out what is the best option of undercover. Anas’ team gave Nyantakyi first class travel and a luxury hotel in the Middle East with the promise of meeting a wealthy businessman with royal connections. A businessman who is apparently interested in a sponsorship deal with the Ghana Football Association. It was quickly established in the meetings with Anas’ team that Nyantakyi was prepared to take money – against FIFA’s Code of Ethics and his own football association’s rules.

Here he was offered a generous gift. We were very clear to Kwesi Nyantakyi that the money we were giving to him… was a gift. On this occasion, he took an amount of 65.000 dollars from us.

The laws are very clear for both FIFA, the Confederation of African Football and the Ghana Football Association. You cannot take a gift. In several meetings, Nyantakyi negotiated a sponsorship deal – an arrangement which on the face of it was worth 15 million dollars for the Ghana FA. Nyantakyi’s job is to look after the best interests of the Ghana FA but the deal he was negotiating potentially gave him a 20 per cut.

The money would go through an agency he was going to set up. Nyantakyi was setting himself up as a middle man for the sponsorship deal. It would have enabled him to take a hefty commission. You are not expected as a president of the Association having a direct relationship with a sponsor, to set up a company. The president cannot act as a middle man or as an agent.

If the president takes anything away from the sponsorship, it is going directly into his pocket instead of the clubs that are supposed to benefit. The 15 million dollar sponsorship deal between the Middle Eastern businessman and the GFA would be arranged through a third party. A company suggested by Nyantakyi called NAMAX. Nyantakyi wrote out the sponsorship arrangement with NAMAX in his own handwrit ing.

He later signed on behalf of Namax, and as President of the Ghana FA. It was Nyantakyi who signed and that was a big moment for this investigation because clearly he had shown that he was the master brain behind it controlling everything. The sponsorship millions would not be paid directly to Ghana’s Football Association but channelled instead through Nyantakyi’s own savings and loan company. It’s shocking but not shocking to some of us who have been on this tangent for quite a long time, especially trying to find out how the Association works, how their structures operate and how they are able to get money through other means and not invest back into the game. Saddick is being sued by Nyantakyi for libel over a previous story alleging wrongdoing at the GFA.

For Anas’ critics, the elaborate sting on Nyantakyi smacks of entrapment. If someone is entrapped with an amount as much as 65.000 dollars, flash hotels and other luxurious incentives… you know, that itself will constitute entrapment. It is much as condemnable as for the person who’s also acquiescing to the bribery, you know, to the taking of a bribe.

If this deal had successfully gone through, it means Nyantakyi alone out of the 15 million dollars could have made 4.5 million dollars. That is the greed we are talking about. One person alone wanting to amass wealth. And you see that goes to the core of this whole investigation that some very few people have just decided to destroy the passion of the nation. The BBC put these allegations to Mr Nyantakyi but has not received a statement.

Last night Anas screened his film for free to thousands of people in an Accra arena. Emotions had run high in the build up to that event. One MP, belonging to Ghana’s ruling party, called for Anas to be hanged just days before. FIFA told the BBC they were investigating the allegations of this film. They said it was a priority for FIFA to protect the integrity of competitions.

The Confederation of African Football said they would not tolerate corruption or violation of their rules. They said they did not recognise the allegations we had made. The Ghana FA declined to give a statement.

We tried to contact everyone named in the undercover footage. Apart from the replies in the programme, the rest did not respond. There is no suggestion FIFA, the Ghana Football Association, WAFU or the Confederation of African Football had any knowledge its officials took money from Anas. And no-one will ever know whether Anas’ money influenced the outcome of any game where he made payments. But, it is up to football’s authorities to deal with the fallout and restore public trust in the African game.

You need to instil confidence into the – I mean – system that people will be able to go into stadium knowing that the referee will be fair. This is something that was needed for a long time. Who has betrayed the game of football in Ghana and beyond? Anas Aremeyaw Anas or those who took his money?

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