Afghanistan football president and coach forced me to fix matches, claims banned player

<span>Composite: Getty Images</span>
Composite: Getty Images

A former Afghanistan international given a lifetime ban from football has claimed he was forced by his coach and the president of the country’s football federation to send emails to a notorious match-fixer in an attempt to arrange the result of games.

Mohammad Salim Israfeel Kohistani has accused Fifa of dismissing his allegations that the former AFF president Keramuddin Keram and Keram’s successor, Mohammad Kargar, who previously had two spells as coach of the senior men’s team, ordered him to send emails to Wilson Raj Perumal to arrange the results of games against Nepal and Sierra Leone at the Merdeka tournament in 2008.

Kohistani was one of eight players found guilty of match-fixing in 2019 by Fifa after an extensive investigation into a series of international matches that “Perumal attempted to manipulate for betting purposes”. But he has claimed that Keram and Kargar were involved in the plot.

“I wrote all the emails but they were standing over me telling me to do it,” he told the Guardian. “I had no other choice. The emails [from Perumal] said that if you accept what we say then every player will get around $2,500 and $10,000 for the AFF for every match. I didn’t know that he was talking about match-fixing at first but I translated the message to Keram and Kargar and they said: ‘OK, we will send them a list of the players.’ I said to them that we shouldn’t be doing this and they said: ‘Just think about your family and no one will get hurt.’”

Related: Afghanistan players urge Fifa to look at match-fixing claims against president

Kohistani has also alleged that Keram – who was banned from football for life in 2019 after sexually abusing female players – and Kargar attempted to fix several other matches, including the final of an under-23s tournament in Bangladesh and one of the women’s teams first internationals. “I wrote many emails to [Perumal] but only I was punished,” he said.

Kargar has denied the allegations as “baseless” and said he had been the victim of “character assassination”. “They want to tarnish the name of Afghan football,” he said. Keram did not respond to questions from the Guardian.

Last month several former players who participated in the tournament in Malaysia in 2008 accused Kargar – the president of the AFF since January 2019 – of working with Perumal and Dan Tan to arrange the results of games against Nepal and Sierra Leone. Tan was described in 2013 by Interpol as head of the “world’s largest and most aggressive match-fixing syndicate” but denies wrongdoing.

Fifa was this month urged to reopen its investigation into allegations of match-fixing against Kargar by a group of Afghanistan players who are boycotting the national team in protest at his continued involvement amid previous claims of corruption against him.

Kohistani claims he first met Perumal in India, two months before the tournament in Malaysia, during a meeting in his hotel room when Kargar was also present – a fact disputed by Kargar. “Because I was able to speak some English, Kargar asked me to talk with Perumal and [Perumal] said that he wanted to invite us to play in a tournament,” said Kohistani. “When we got back to Afghanistan, I was called by Kargar and told to come to the AFF office. Keram was also there.

“They told me to write an email to Perumal and I asked why I had to use my email address. They said I could create a new address that was but they kept the password. So I started to write the emails and every day they wanted to be in contact with him. I was called into the federation just to send another email and then I would leave again. I was only 21 years old so I didn’t really know what was going on.”

Kohistani has admitted he was aware of the alleged plan by the time Afghanistan faced Nepal in a match that ended in a 2-2 draw. He and several other players have claimed they heard Kargar issuing instructions to concede a goal after taking calls on his mobile phone.

“I remember our coach having a telephone on the touchline and then giving instructions to the defenders to concede a goal,” Kohistani said. “One of the players is now a coach in Afghanistan so he couldn’t say anything about what happened. If they say anything they know they could be in danger.”

Several overseas-based players, including the former captain Djelaludin Sharityar, refused to play for Afghanistan in protest at the alleged match-fixing but Kohistani – who was playing for the local side Kabul Bank – says he was warned to keep quiet about what had happened. “We were all under massive pressure – if we said something then we knew we could be killed,” he said.

In April 2019 Kohistani was living in Denmark and playing for the third-tier side Vejen Sportsforening when he received a letter from Fifa informing him he had been banned for life.

“I didn’t even know I had been under investigation,” he said. “I contacted them to ask why they hadn’t spoken to me and they said they had sent many emails to the same email address that I was given by Kargar and Keram. No one from the AFF had ever contacted me and I was told that they said they had lost contact with me, which wasn’t true.”

Fifa disputes this and says it attempted to contact Kohistani through the Danish Football Association. According to the judgment of its ethics committee, seen by the Guardian, Perumal asked Kohistani if he could bring the Afghanistan women’s team to an unspecified tournament and was told: “I have talked with them they are agree with your opration [sic] to cooperate with you.” It was on this basis that he was found guilty. He was also accused of attempting to fix matches at an under-16 tournament called the Lion City Cup, and senior men’s games against Malaysia in 2009, Bangladesh in 2010 and 2011.

Kohistani appealed against Fifa’s decision, arguing that he “was never able and in position to decide about the composition and the results of the national team” and “acted only as a middleman between (…) Mr Kargar and the so-called football agent Mr Perumal”. He said he was “not aware at the time of the gravity of the guilt”.

The appeal was dismissed by Fifa’s appeals committee after it was decided “there is no case for finding that the appellant had been forced or threatened to communicate with Mr Perumal between 2008 and 2011 in the context of the match-fixing activities”. However, it also said that “it appears that Mr Kohistani may not be the only player involved in the match-fixing activities, and thus strongly recommends Fifa to initiate further disciplinary investigations”.

That has yet to happen and Kohistani has since written to Fifa again asking for the investigation to be reopened.

“How is it possible that just one person is banned?” he said. “I don’t understand how they can think a player who is only 21 years old can take these kind of decisions and no one from the Afghanistan Football Federation was involved. I’ve never said that I didn’t write the emails. But I didn’t have access to that email account and that was my only role. I just wanted to play football and have a career.”

He claims his family has been threatened since his appearance on television in Afghanistan at the start of December when he detailed many of the allegations against Kargar and Keram.

“They tried to find my family so they can catch me,” he said. “I heard from my brother who still lives in Afghanistan – they had to find somewhere else to live. We are very scared about what might happen.”