By Mark Gleeson
CAPE TOWN (Reuters) - South Africa were duped into allowing an Asian match fixing syndicate to provide them with referees for a series of warm-up games before they hosted the 2010 World Cup, FIFA security chief Chris Eaton said on Monday.
The outcome of friendly internationals against Thailand, Colombia, Bulgaria and Guatemala in the weeks leading up to the tournament are all in question after FIFA found the match officials had been provided by a Singapore-based company, fronting for match fixers.
Eaton said the South African Football Association had taken up an offer from Wilson Perumal, who has since been convicted in Finland on match fixing charges, to use his company for the procurement of referees for the games.
"It is clear that the convicted criminal and football match-fixer, Wilson Raj Perumal, was involved in convincing SAFA to agree to a company then managed by him (Football4U) to select, fund and appoint referees to certain international matches played in 2010, which are now under investigation," Eaton said in a statement released on his behalf by the South Africans on Monday.
It follows a four-day trip by FIFA's outgoing security director to Johannesburg to interview those involved and investigate any potential duplicity.
Eaton suggested the South Africans were duped rather than complicit in any deceit.
"It should also be said that to date there is no information, suggestion or evidence that any player or team, including the national South Africa team, was in any way complicit with any attempt to manipulate a match outcome," he said.
South Africa usually invites match officials from neighboring countries to handle home friendly matches but agreed to Perumal's offer that he fly in officials from Kenya, Niger and Togo for the four matches.
South Africa were handed two disputed penalties in beating Colombia 2-1 when they played at Soccer City in Johannesburg on May 27. One of the kicks was ordered retaken twice after the initial efforts were both saved. Colombia's goal also came from a penalty.
South Africa's 5-0 win over Guatemala in Polokwane four days later saw them awarded a further two spot kicks.
Among the referees was Ibrahim Chaibou from Niger, already suspended by FIFA for involvement in other match fixing allegations in Bahrain and Nigeria.
Eaton's investigation is the first into the affair despite SAFA being aware of the allegations for more than a year after tabloid newspaper revelations.
"This investigation will be concluded as fast as humanly possible, while respecting due process and extending full opportunities for anyone to contribute to arriving at the complete truth of these matters," Eaton added.
The embattled South African association is already reeling under the embarrassment of its national team failing last year to qualify for the African Nations Cup finals because they did not understand the rules and Eaton's statement will add to a picture of a bungling and gullible organization.
SAFA president Kirsten Nematandani said his organization had co-operated fully.
(Editing by Justin Palmer)