Midfielder Dario Susak, then 22, testified that Saka suggested he could help him get a contract with a foreign club, then loaned him $2,550 at a high interest rate. Once he owed the money, Susak testified, Saka told him he would have to lose matches.
Unbeknownst to any of them, Croatian police were already running a wiretap on Saka after being tipped off by German investigators.
Croatian prosecutors said Saka bribed up to 10 people on Cizmek’s team, and another five tied to either FC Varteks or FC Medimurje.
Saka ended up being convicted of fraud, bribery and conspiracy and going to jail. His lawyer confirmed the plea bargain but wouldn’t discuss the case.
The deal involving Cizmek came together at Fort Apache, a steakhouse on the truck route between Zagreb, the Croatian capital, and Slovenia. Cizmek and his goalkeeper met there with Saka and two associates on March 25, 2010, to fix a game with FC Zadar two days later, according to players’ testimony and police transcripts.
Six players would get $24,220, although the money was not divided equally. One of the unwritten rules of match-fixing is that the goalkeeper gets the biggest share because his statistics suffer the worst blow; defenders get the next-biggest, midfielders get less and strikers often are not even included in the fix.
The result: Zadar won 2-1 as Cizmek, one of the best players, stayed on the bench. After the game, he said, he collected $2,550, bought his kids a bunk bed and stashed the rest away, saving up to pay an overdue tax bill.
Cizmek saw himself as a Robin Hood-sort of figure: stealing money from crooks to put food on the table for his teammates and their families who were being crushed by an unjust system.
The match-fixing train had begun rolling, and it would prove difficult to stop.
The stakes were raised for an April 3 match against FC Slaven Belupo, according to players’ testimony. This time it was $51,000 for eight players. They not only had to lose, but to do so by at least three goals. That enabled those in on the deal to win two bets in one match.
Cizmek’s team lost 4-0. Saka, however, delivered only $43,300, eight Croatia Sesvete players testified in court. Cizmek said Saka did not explain why.
The demands for an April 14 game against FC Rijeka were even greater: $51,000 to trail at halftime, a final score that included more than three goals, with the team losing by at least two goals, Cizmek testified.
Player Ante Pokrajcic testified that he was happy to have scored a goal until the team’s owner stormed into the locker room, cursing about the 1-1 halftime score. Only then did Pokrajcic realize the game had been fixed.
The team lost 4-2, but Saka delivered only about half of what was promised, according to players’ testimony.
The players were furious. In the next game, they won 3-1 against Inter Zapresic.
But another unwritten rule of match-fixing soon became clear to Cizmek: Once a player has fixed a game, he is trapped forever.
The criminal gang usually has enough evidence to get a player thrown out of the sport for life. Plus, the shame alone will keep him silent, and the fixer’s demands will keep escalating until the player quits, retires or gets caught. Some implicated in match-fixing have even committed suicide.
When Cizmek approached the goalkeeper and a midfielder about fixing an April 17 game against FC Lokomotiva, they refused. He handed the money back to Saka two hours before the game, he said.
‘‘If I was really the ringleader, I could have made them do it,’’ he told the AP. ‘‘But I couldn’t do it. ... We told them, ‘No more.'’’
Saka exploded in anger but made sure not to bet, Cizmek said. FC Lokomotiva won 2-1 anyway, and Cizmek said he scored a goal ‘‘just for pride’’ in the second half.
For the last three games of the season, Saka went above the players’ heads to fix the game, according to players’ testimony. Those involved now included the coach and one of the owner’s sons — both of whom were convicted in the case.
‘‘Saka came to me and said, ‘I have arranged everything higher up. If you want you can check with the son,'’’ Cizmek said.
Cizmek said he refused to deliver that message to the other players, making the son talk individually with each athlete. Other players confirmed his account in court. Cizmek said the fixer made sure not to involve the owner’s other son, a young player on the team.
With substantial bribes now going to the coach, the payouts for the players grew meager: $22,300 for seven players in the last game, according to testimony.Continued...