Malta international amongst three footballers accused of match-fixing

Former footballer charged with match-fixing implicates players Ryan Camenzuli and Samir Arab with accepting bribes, accuses police of dismissing his accusations against Malta international Camenzuli 

Ryan Camenzuli (left) and Samir Arab (right) have been accused of accepting bribes
Ryan Camenzuli (left) and Samir Arab (right) have been accused of accepting bribes

Malta international and Floriana midfielder Ryan Camenzuli is amongst three players recently accused of accepting bribes to fix a recent Under-21 game, in testimony given by former footballer Ronnie Mackay.

The other implicated players are Balzan defender Samir Arab and Floriana midfielder Emanuel Briffa, who was in August acquitted of match-fixing charges.

The accusations were made last month by former footballer Ronnie Mackay, who has been charged with fixing the Under-21 game between Malta and Montenegro in March that Malta went on to lose 1-0.

Earlier this year, former Valletta player Seyble Zammit testified that he had been approached by Mackay to bribe players ahead of the Montenegro game against a reward of €6,000. He claimed that he had been under pressure to throw the game, or incur a refund of €7,000 – the travel expenses of a Chinese betting syndicate who had travelled to Malta to commission the operation. Although he approached nine players, the plan failed as only Emanuel Briffa and midfielder Kyle Cesare showed interest. Zammit, Briffa and Cesare were later all exempted from court punishment, but Mackay still faces charges of match-fixing.

Testifying last month, Mackay – a former AFM soldier – told magistrate Joe Mifsud that he had become addicted to gambling, after falling into bad company, having found out that his girlfriend at the time was being unfaithful.

His downward spiral into gambling addiction left his family “financially ruined” and Mackay in serious debt with three banks and various loan sharks, as well as landing him an 18 month prison term for match-fixing. After serving his sentence, he said that nobody was willing to employ him as he had a criminal record.

He said that he spends all his unemployment benefits on his house loan and that if his parents didn’t give him handouts, then he wouldn’t even be able to afford food.

When he left his treatment at Caritas in October last year, by December, he had already borrowed money, gambled and lost a lot more than he had borrowed, so in January had voluntarily signed himself on to a register of people who would not be allowed entry into betting or gaming shops.

The endless cycle of borrowing from one person to pay the other had “broken” him, his health and his family's finances, he said.

Mackay ‘unaware’ of Zammit's pardon before making police statement

Mackay recounted how he had been approached by Seyble Zammit in February with an offer to bet on a match. Zammit, who admitted corruption charges in April but was exempted from punishment due to his collaboration with the police, had pestered him to place a bet on a First division match, but Mackay had initially refused.

But when, a month later, Zammit tried again, this time taking bets on Montenegro winning an international U21 match against Malta, he brought backup, Mackay said.

The accused explained that Zammit had given him the phone number for a Chinese man Mackay knew only as “Fred,” telling him to pick Fred up and drive him to a bar in Valletta. Inside that bar, Mackay said he found Zammit and his teammates Samir Arab and Manuel Briffa sitting around a table.

In the four minute meeting that followed, Zammit had offered the players €3,000 each to throw the match – a deal which Mackay said Arab and Briffa had "immediately accepted," but Mackay claimed to have said nothing, although he conceded that he had found the prospect of earning thousands so painlessly increasingly attractive the more he thought about it.

Realizing that he could not afford the €7000 stake and had no way of borrowing the sum while making a profit, Mackay eventually turned the offer down, in spite of  Zammit's persistence, he said.

But while the fixed match was being played, after Malta conceded its first goal, Zammit had called the accused, who was watching the game from the stands, telling Mackay that he had missed a golden opportunity.

Zammit had later testified that the bet had not been placed in the end.

Mackay said that he had not been made aware of Zammit's pardon when he had gone to give his statement to the police.

Mackay explained that when he was questioned by the police in the subsequent match-fixing investigation, he had withheld a lot of information so as not to implicate Zammit, who he said he later found had not been quite so gallant and had piled the blame on Mackay.

Asked by defence lawyer Giannella De Marco whether Zammit had told him to find someone else for the wager, the accused confirmed this had happened, adding that Zammit had also asked him to open bank accounts under Mackay's name, but he had refused.

“The easy way out for him, when he was caught, was to blame me because...I had already been accused [of accepting bribes] by one player in a separate case.”

He had revealed all this, including the mobile number belonging to “Fred”, to the court, De Marco said, so that “whoever needs to be arrested can be arrested.”

Mackay names Samir Arab, Manuel Briffa, Ryan Camenzuli as having been bribed

Cross-examined by prosecuting police inspector Sean Scicluna, he named Samir Arab, Manuel Briffa and Ryan Camenzuli as the players he knew who had been bribed. Mackay said he had only heard Kyle Cesare's name in connection with the attempt from news reports.

“What did Samir Arab say?! Samir Arab wasn't even arraigned here and he was around the table with the players...Ryan Camenzuli was never charged either. I'm the sacrificial lamb who gets punished for everyone.”

Zammit had shown him an SMS from Camenzuli, in which he accepted the money but refused to meet the Chinese connection.

Zammit had told Mackay that he was going to speak to footballer Joseph Mbong next, but Mackay had warned him not to as Mbong was “clean” and would not hesitate to report him to the authorities. “Zammit had texted him anyway, he didn't listen to me,” he said.

The prosecution asked why he was asking about Samir Arab and whether he knew something that the police didn't. “Why was Emanuel Briffa charged?” Mackay replied. “Samir Arab took the same money. Took them. 'Confident,' he had told the Chinese guy. He said he was confident, too.”

Nobody had wanted to know about Ryan Camenzuli when Mackay had tried to tell the police about him, Mackay insisted, saying he thought that perhaps the police “had instructions about him.”

Seyble Zammit and Samir Arab were former club team mates “the best of friends,” he said.

“If you look at Seyble Zammit's Facebook profile they're always together, in an embrace. They used to play for Valletta together, so I think I was the odd one out.”

Mackay said he had bumped into the national team in October, while having a coffee at a hotel in Bugibba. He had left immediately, but later remembered hearing that a well-known person who had been involved in corruption cases had also been spotted inside the hotel. That person, who the witness was not asked to identify, was never charged, he said.

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