Two referees confess to fixing international football matches in Cyprus between 2016 and 2018
Five of the referees in the off-season friendlies were players, and one former player, posing as officials
This gang and their organisers are connected to Eric Mao, a Chinese agent and football investor, named as a “a senior match fixing organiser” in a confidential sports intelligence report
“This story makes me feel ashamed,” says 30 year-old Romanian centre-back Alin Stoica, sitting in a cafe in a shopping mall in Bucharest.
Now in the final stages of his career, the former defender in Romania and the Czech Republic, begins to open up, revealing how he assisted in fixing matches in off-season friendlies in Cyprus by posing as an official.
In late 2015, the Romanian had just left the Czech club Vitkovice, when he received a phone call from a Greek agent, Gavriil Papanastasatos. The two were friends. Papanastasatos had found teams in Latvia and Sweden for Stoica to play, before moving him to Vitkovice.
It was a vague communication, where the Greek asked if he could pass Stoica’s phone number to ‘someone who was interested’.
“I said yes and then I was contacted by a guy from Ukraine. He called himself Igor. He asked me if I could find Romanian referees for him. He wanted to use them in friendly games in Cyprus. I realised what he needed these guys for.”
‘Igor’ promised Stoica €500 for each referee he could source. The defender convinced two Romanian lower league officials, Alex-Daniel Tunaru and Valentin George Erghelie, to sign up. “I asked for my €1,000 but Igor told me to come to Cyprus with the boys. I went there as I didn't have a team.”
When he arrived, Igor turned out to be the Latvian centre-back Kirils Grigorovs, then 24 years old, who gave him €1,000.
The Latvian defender told Stoica there was more money to be made in Cyprus, and, if he wanted a further €500, he could pose as an assistant referee. ‘I need you tomorrow,’ said Grigorovs.
“I had to have money badly,” Stoica claims. “My parents were in Turkey where my father was undergoing treatment for cancer. He was terminally ill. The doctors in Romania told him he had only two months left to live. The Turkish offered us hope and told us he had 60 percent chance of survival. My father went there for immunotherapy and radiotherapy, but it cost us €40,000.
“I don't remember the game well, I think there was a Russian or Serbian team, but nothing wrong happened. I got my money and wanted to leave when Kirils told me to stay more. ‘We have many games,’ he said. I told him I'm not a referee and I don't know how to act like one. He replied that I don't need to be a referee, and explained: ‘Maybe in some games you just need to let the flag down when it's offside or maybe you need to raise the flag when the player is onside. You just close your eyes.’”
That winter Stoica stayed in Cyprus, masquerading as an official. “Kirils was very happy after one particular match where we refereed,” says Stoica. “I think they won their bets.”
The defender states that he refereed for “five or six games”. But, according to our analysis, Stoica officiated 14 matches. In seven, he was the main referee, in the others, he was an assistant on the line. In many of the games EIC Network has viewed, the refereeing decisions were bizarre, as Stoica and his companions awarded penalty kicks out of thin air, disallowed valid goals and let the flag down when the players were clearly offside.
“We received instructions before the games from Kirils and from a Cypriot. They told us: ‘Today you need to raise the flag or to keep it down’. They needed goals during matches, that's what I was made to understand.
“I clearly felt during many of the games that the teams were aware of the fix,” says Stoica. “That's why we didn't need to do anything wrong. They [the defenders] let the opponents dribble or make blatant fouls. I'm a football player and I know when something fishy is happening. Probably, they fixed it themselves. We, the referees, were an insurance policy in case the fix got out of control. During one game, a Serbian player kept asking me: ‘Brother, brother, what will be the score? 0-0?’. He was laughing. I said: “Why are you asking me about the score?”
On 31 January 2016, in a game between Serbian team FK Rad Belgrade and Russian side Ural Ekaterinburg ended 1-0 for Ural after Kirils Grigorovs, posing also as a referee, shockingly cancelled an own-goal scored by Ural in the first half. During the second-half, the Romanian referee Tunaru awarded an outrageous penalty for Ural.
“I managed to make €5,000 from the games I refereed,” says Stoica. “I sent all the money to my parents. My father asked my mother where I got the money from as I wasn’t playing for any club at that time. He found out about Cyprus. He told me: ‘I'd rather die than know you could have problems because of these stupid actions’. But I'd still do that if I needed money for the same purpose. My father gave me life.”
The Unofficial Officials
Starting from January 2016 and running over three years, at least eight individuals from Romania, Portugal and Latvia went to Cyprus to officiate friendly matches. These games were organised by a Cypriot-based company Androsports. Today, we exclusively reveal testimony from two of these “referees”, who admit the games included fixes. Also we can show that five of the “referees” were not trained referees, but are former or actual football players.
EIC detected at least 32 games refereed by the gang during the winters of 2016, 2017 and 2018. These offseason friendlies hosted 15 teams from Russia, three each from Poland and Cyprus, two each from Serbia, Czech Republic and one each from Switzerland, Belarus, Slovakia, Moldova, Romania, Ukraine, Bulgaria, Latvia and Hungary.
The company Androsports is strongly suspected to be connected to Eric Mao, a 36 year-old FIFA agent and club investor from China. Most of the “referees” have played in clubs where he is an impresario. Through his company Anping, Mao has been an investor in minor league clubs in Europe for over four years, and his entourage has been involved in match-fixing scandals in Ireland, Latvia, the Czech Republic and Romania. Anping has been named as a “front for illegal match fixing operations” according to an investigation by the Qatar-based International Center for Sports Security (ICSS) seen by EIC Network, which calls Mao “a senior match fixing organizer and leader of a Singaporean match-fixing syndicate”.
Who are the fake referees?
The first ‘referee’ was Latvian centre-back Kirils Grigorovs. Born in 1992, Grigorovs played for Latvian side Jurmala FC, before the club collapsed in 2015 following a match-fixing investigation. The club owner during the final season was Gavriil Papanastasatos, the Greek agent who recommended Alin Stoica to work on the friendlies in Cyprus. When approached, Papanastasatos denies this series of events.
After Jurmala disintegrated, Grigorovs moved to Athlone Town FC in Ireland, where two players were suspended for match-fixing in 2017, and on to Czech third league club Mohelnice, which was relegated earlier this year after a spate of suspicious matches. All these clubs were owned at the time by Anping or its associates. In the summer of 2018, Grigorovs was directly involved in Eric Mao’s negotiations to take over a Czech first league club, MFK Karvina.
The second 'referee', only 25 years of age in 2016, was Romanian attacking midfielder Adrian Udrea. He posed as an official for eight friendlies in Cyprus. From the game's footage, Udrea disallows a legitimate goal scored by Red Star Belgrade against Ural. At the time of this imposture, he was a player for Academia Clinceni, a club also financed by Eric Mao’s Anping.
The third, Silviu Posteuca, in his early 30s in 2016, is a former Romanian wunderkind goalkeeper at Dinamo Bucharest who retired when he was 24 due to an injury. A keen poker player, he officiated 13 friendly games in Cyprus. Contacted by EIC reporters, Posteuca admits he appeared as a referee in “some friendly matches” on the Mediterranean island. “I was already in Cyprus to play in some poker tournaments,” he says. “During one evening, some guys in the casino offered me to be a referee. There has been no discussion about match-fixing. My fee for a game was €200.”
But Stoica disputes this account. “I was the one telling Posteuca to come to Cyprus,” he says. “He came there for money too.”
One day during their tour in 2017, the Romanian media discovered another network of fake referees fixing friendly games in Cyprus and Turkey. This gang were formed of previous or actual referees from the top three Romanian leagues, and from the same town as Posteuca. When this news was published, Stoica says: “[Posteuca] panicked. He thought we would be discovered too.”
The fourth unofficial official was Portuguese midfielder, José Alexandre Coelho Viegas, a former player at Mao-financed clubs Atletico Clube de Portugal and Athlone Town. Now 28, Viegas is president of Racing Rioja, a new club in Spain which Mao’s entourage has allegedly constructed. In Cyprus, he acted as an assistant referee in eight games.
Contacted by EIC reporter on Facebook, Viegas - a keen poker player like Posteuca - at first denies he has ever been to Cyprus. But when we show the midfielder a photograph of himself dressed as a referee on the island, Viegas changes his tone, and refuses to talk about “this shit”.
The fifth ‘referee’ was a Romanian ex-player Alex Dragomir. Now 33 years old, Dragomir was vice-president of the club Academia Clinceni, when Eric Mao’s Anping was a major investor in the team. While in Cyprus he acted as a linesman during two friendly games. During a match on 1 February 2016 between Orenburg and Spartak Moscow’s second team, which ended 1-1, the ball hit the crossbar and then bounced three meters behind the goal-line. Dragomir watched for a few seconds without gesturing to the halfway-line, as a regular linesman should do. From his actions, it seems clear he is not a genuine referee.
One year after his refereeing trip to Cyprus, Dragomir was banned by the Romanian FA for three months following a plot to fix matches at Academia Clinceni. In his testimony to the Romanian FA committee, he stated he went to Cyprus in the winter of 2016 for “negotiations with the Chinese”, but did not name Mao specifically.
None of the referees with whom we spoke would admit to Dragomir’s presence, out of fear. According to sources in football, Dragomir “is very influential and very dangerous”. During his career, he played for the Hungarian club Sopron under the ownership of Vladimir Putin's friend, Marius Vizer, the former president of international sports organisation, SportAccord.
When the Romanian FA officials interrogated Dragomir in the proven match fixing case, the former Sopron defender responded that the Chinese investors in Clinceni - that is Eric Mao's entourage - were recommended to him by a “very important person” in Hungary. From his headquarters in Budapest, Vizer strongly denies any link to the match fixing case, and says he does not remember Dragomir.
Two other gang members were actual referees in Romania, Alex-Daniel Tunaru and Valentin George Erghelie. Tunaru now works as a bricklayer and house-painter, and earns 20 Euro for each game he referees in Romania’s fourth league. Erghelie is a fourth league assistant referee. He owns a small shop in his home village near Bucharest.
Another of the eight “referees” spoke to us in confidence. “I see that the past is chasing me. I cannot get the time back to repair what I did wrong.” he says. “We went there and lodged in Airbnb apartments. We didn't pay for anything. Flight tickets, everything was already paid. We had to follow instructions during a few games.
“What did I have to do? I had to disallow a goal, stuff like that. We let one team score when we needed a goal. I think there were two or three games in which we did bad things. There were other games during which we didn't need to do something wrong. The score was exactly as we wanted to be.”
“Since then, I have lived in fear. I sometimes dream about the police looking for me.” But this referee claims that it was Alin Stoica himself who sent him to Cyprus and who is, in his words “the head of the mafia.” Stoica refutes his leading role in the fixes.
The organisers also seemed to cover up the names of the referees in the game. For a match between Spartak Moscow’s second team and Russian side Tosno on 5 February 2016, the referees in the video playback are all Romanian: with Alex Tunaru leading the officiating, flanked by Silviu Posteuca and Alin Stoica. But on Spartak Moscow’s website the name of the main referee is Carlos Motto, a Cypriot. This was Tunaru's fake identity used by the organisers.
Who was behind the operation?
Oine of the overseers of the fake referees was Greek agent Gavriil Papanastasatos. Born in 1970, Papanastasatos has been active in the leagues of Cyprus and Greece, and has transferred players from the Peruvian, Costa Rican, Azerbaijani and Guatemalan leagues, according to a report by the International Center for Sports Security (ICSS).
The Greek has also been a club investor in Latvian club FC Jurmala, and in the Czech Republic, at MFK Vitkovice in 2015. Jurmala was the subject of a match-fixing investigation by UEFA, and has now disbanded, while Vitkovice broke its ties with the Greek after an attempt to match-fix by Alin Stoica was exposed. Using the name of “Peter Pappas”, Papanastasatos has been close to Anping and Eric Mao, as the two have been business partners. Back in 2014, the ICSS flagged the friendly match HJK Helsinki - Jurmala 5-0, which was organised by both Mao’s company Anping and Papanastasatos’s Football Planet Association.
When we approach Papanastasatos, he denies that “Peter Pappas” was his pseudonym. Asked if he was involved in match-fixing, the Greek adds via text:
“Xaxaxa, I dont have this power bro. I try to work for survive. :)”
The Agent then refuses to answer any more questions and blocks the reporter.
Papanastasatos was the agent for Alin Stoica when the player moved to Academia Clinceni in 2016, a team run by Eric Mao’s Anping group. During his short time training with the team, Stoica tried to convince Clinceni players to sign a contract with Atletico Clube de Portugal, Anping’s club in Lisbon. “Papanastasatos was the one who asked me to recommend Romanian players for a club in Portugal [Atletico Clube de Portugal],” says Stoica.
When we ask the Greek if he has worked with the controversial Chinese figures, he states: “Sometimes I make transfers with many agents and sometimes with some Chinese company. I don't remember if was this names.”
Another strong and bizarre connection between Mao and the fake referees is visible in the name of a holding company. On 4 March 2016, six days after his last game in Cyprus, referee Alex Tunaru became director for a shell-company based in London, Ocean Oil Holding Limited. This was used by Bruce Ji, the right-hand man of Eric Mao, in negotiations to take over a Czech football club, Mohelnice.
When we confront Tunaru, he claims he didn't know about his presence in the public British registry until a letter appeared.
“I found out about this company when my mother called me to say I'd received an envelope from the UK,“ he says. “There were some papers of the company inside.”
What about the Cypriot company organising the friendlies?
In Cyprus, Androsports organises travel, logistics, accommodation, translation and even laundry for football clubs in friendlies and UEFA qualifying rounds. Recently the firm hosted Dinamo Brest of Belarus in its Europa League qualifier against local team Apollon Limassol, and in 2013 one of the clubs using its services was Paris Saint-Germain women's team, which arrived in Cyprus for training.
“Have you considered the opportunity for a preseason training abroad?” states the company homepage. “We would like to introduce the island of Cyprus as the best alternative destination for your team. Through years of experience, we've learned to match and exceed our clients’ expectations by offering facilities with the very best sporting conditions as well as excellent accommodation.”
Based in the coastal city of Paralimni, the company has hosted training camps this year for Denmark Under-19s and Lithuania under-21s, as well as Ural Ekaterinburg and Poland’s Wisla Plock and Ruch Churzow. Most teams come from eastern Europe, and especially Russia.
But match-fixer Eric Mao himself seems to be involved in the administration decisions. According to a source, when Mao and his colleague Bruce Ji were prospecting investing in the Slovak football club of Nitra and Czech club Karvina, they offered the clubs holidays with Androsports disguised under sponsorship deals.
“The first step before they tried to take over the clubs was to offer free training camps to those clubs,” says the source. “The clubs only paid for the flight tickets to Cyprus.”
EIC saw a contract between Androsports and Nitra and the details are shocking. The amount paid by the football club for the accommodation of 26 persons for 10 nights in 14 rooms at Panas Holiday Village Hotel was zero. According to the sponsorship contract, Androsports organised four friendly games for the Czech team. Two of the games were officiated by Erghelie, Grigorovs and Viegas and the opponents were the first league Polish teams Slask Wroclaw and Wisla Plock.
Curiously, the game Slask - Nitra was not shown on the Polish club TV channel after the team director decided against it. The referees awarded two penalty kicks to Slask and the game ended in a 3-2 win for the Poles.
Androsports's current director is Pantelis Andronikou. He is a former vicepresident of Karmiotissa, a second league club in Cyprus fined for match-fixing in February 2017 by the national FA, and now he appears as a board-member at first league club Enosis Neon Paralimni. Androsports and Karmiotissa enjoy good relations because the Cypriot ‘travel agency’ organised the club's last training camp in Slovenia.
But this caused some suspicion.
In a letter seen by EIC in July 2016, the head of Cyprus Football Players’ Association, Spyros Neophytides, denounced Aris Limassol and Karmiotissa's training camps in Slovenia to the Integrity Department of FIFA.
The training took place in the Slovenian city of Maribor from 18 to 28 July 2016, between the Cypriot clubs and Russian teams. Neophytides claims that is “very interesting” because the clubs could not afford the travel costs, and that he has information from players that Aris Limassol have been involved in “fixed matches”.
When EIC reporters contact Androsports' Andronikou, he is on his way to the airport. “I have a business trip to Moscow,” he says. “I have four or five Russian partners. The winter is my season as the summer is too hot for training camps in Cyprus. If I do one million euro during one winter I will be very, very happy.”
No less than 15 Russian teams have played in the games organised by Andronikou and officiated by fake referees over the last three winters. Stoica and another member of the gang claim they felt that at least two games played by the Russians teams were fixed by the players.
Initially Andronikou says he it is him who organises the referees when the Russian teams play against each other. “I bring, I bring [the referees]” he adds.
But when we inform him about the presence of a match-fixing gang at his matches, the director tries to change his stance.
“Somebody gave you the wrong information,” he says. “Most of the games were officiated by the referees from the federation in Cyprus. The Russian teams arrange the referees between [themselves]. Teams were happy with the referees. No complaints.”
The Irregular Games
EIC detected at least 32 games refereed by the gang - which included fake referees - during the winters of 2016, 2017 and 2018. All the games were organised by Androsports, a company based in Cyprus. 15 teams from Russia, three each from Poland and Cyprus, two each from Serbia, Czech Republic and once each from Switzerland, Belarus, Slovakia, Moldova, Romania, Ukraine, Bulgaria, Latvia and Hungary played in those matches. The most appearances were from Kuban Krasnodar (Russia) in six games, and Wisla Plock (Poland) in five games. Below are four examples of irregular activity at the games.
Kuban (Russia) .V. Enisey (Russia) 0-1 (0-0)
Date: 26 January 2016
Referees: Alex Tunaru, Kirils Grigorovs, Alin Stoica
In the 68th minute, Tunaru awards a penalty to Enisey that is hard to explain. The player misses. In the 89th minute, Tunaru awards another penalty. This time Enisey scores.
Ural (Russia) .V. Rad Belgrade (Serbia) 1-0 (0-0)
31 January 2016, Androsports
Referees: Alex Tunaru, Alin Stoica, Kirils Grigorovs
In the first half, an Ural player scores an own-goal, but Kirils Grigorovs astonishingly disallows the goal for offside. In the second half, Tunaru awards an unexplainable penalty for Ural.
Spartak-2 (Russia) .V. Tosno (Russia) 1-3 (0-1)
5 February 2016
Referees: Alex Tunaru, Silviu Posteucă, Alin Stoica
Spartak-2 GK and one defender make a mess of the action before a second goal is scored by Tosno. Tunaru awards two penalties and orders one of them to be retaken. Alin Stoica raises his flag to award a penalty for Spartak-2. On Spartak Moscow’s website, the name of the main referee was Carlos Motto, a Cypriot. This was Tunaru's fake identity used by the organisers.
Sheriff Tiraspol (Moldova) .V. Kuban (Russia) 2-1 (1-1)
8 February 2016, Ayia Napa (Cyprus), Androsports
Referees: Alex Tunaru, Alin Stoica, Valentin George Erghelie
One referee claims he felt the players wanted Sheriff to win the match. Kuban's goalkeeper makes a stupid mistake to allow Sheriff’s first goal. Erghelie disallows a goal scored by Sheriff. Tunaru awards a soft penalty for Kuban in the dying moments of the first half. Tunaru also awards a penalty for Kuban during the second half despite a handball being clearly committed outside the penalty box. The Kuban player misses it with ease. For the last goal, Tunaru ignores Erghelie's flag to award a Sheriff goal scored from an offside position.
Pictures of matches from club websites