The integrity of the NRL is under a cloud amid revelations that players from several clubs have taken secret benefits or cash payments in likely breach of salary cap rules.
The Manly Sea Eagles is suspected of breaching the salary cap via secret payments to at least one player in previous seasons, according to information gathered by NSW police andNRL officials.
But it is understood Manly is not the only club under scrutiny, with the past behaviour of several other clubs also attracting police attention.
In revelations that pose a significant challenge for the NRL and chief executive Todd Greenberg, it is understood the NSW Organised Crime Squad has gathered evidence suggesting secret salary top-up payments have been made to players from several clubs. The information has emerged during an investigation into match fixing allegations.
An NRL insider told Fairfax Media detectives havenot found evidence of anorganised conspiracy involving players deliberatelylosing games. But detectives have information about intelligencebeing leaked by club insiders to punters, and, hidden player payments that may breach salary cap rules.
“It is systemic,” said one witness who has been interviewed by police about his own role making undisclosed player payments at several clubs.
Another figure who has been scrutinised by police, but who denies any wrong doing, is a well-known punter.
When asked on Wednesday by Fairfax Media about whether he had ever made any undisclosed payments to a Manly player, the punterresponded: “You write it. I’ve got no comment to make.” He refused to address the question when pressed butalso said that secret payments were happening “at nearly every club.”
The NRL is facinga situation similar to that in2014, when the Australian Crime Commission, using coercive interview powers, gained information from league insiders about doping issues. That information was passed, in a redacted form, to the NRL before the start of the 2013 season, allowing the league to launch an inquiry and take action.
The NSW Police Organised Crime Squad, which would not respond to questions citing its ongoing inquiry, is continuing to gather evidence mid-way through the NRL season.
It is understood police areyet to share detailed information with the NRL. This may partly be because several of the players and league figures who have given information to detectives have done so during confidential coercive examinations, which can notbereleased to non-police organisationssuch as the NRL. It means the NRL may never have access to information that could allow it to deal with cheats.
An NRL spokesman said league officials were “in regular dialogue with police on matters relating to the game”.
“At this stage, we are not in possession of evidence of salary cap violations which would warrant any disciplinary action,” the spokesman said.
“But we remain in contact with police and will take action if it is warranted.”
One police witness, a businessman, has told investigators he made undisclosed cash payments to help a small number of clubs retain valuable players. Manly was not one of these clubs. But intelligence has also been gathered about a cash handover in a car park in connection to a former Manly player. A second former Manly player is also the subject of allegations involvingundisclosed player payments.
Several well-placed sources also confirmed that both police and the NRL holdconcerns about Manly’s handling of third-party player payments, including the accuracy of club financial records and the possible failure to disclosepayments asrequired by the league. Third-party player payments involve sponsors or club supporters providing benefits to players that are below a certain level and reported to the NRL as part of the management of a club’s salary cap.One well known Manly identity is suspected of condoningbehaviour that risked breaching the salary cap.
Making secret payments to players to top up their salaries may involve the criminal offences of fraud or secret commissions, while also breaching NRL salary cap rules.
Fairfax Media has spoken to a small number of sources who have given evidence to the NSW Organised Crime Squad, including during secretive coercive hearings. It is unlawful to discuss what is said in a hearing, so some sources have asked not to be named.Fairfax Media has also spoken to a NRL insider with knowledge of some of the issues facing the league.
The sources said Manly is suspected to have engaged in salary cap breaches similar to those undertaken by Paramatta, which saw the club lose 12 points, effectively ending its 2016 season.
In news that will relieve the NRL, several well placed sources also told Fairfax Media that the police match fixing inquiry has failed to find evidence of organised game rigging. No person wil be charged with any serious criminal offences linked directly to game rigging, although other charges involving fraud or money laundering may still be laid.
Police informants and those with involvement in the betting activities under scrutiny have described to Fairfax Media some of the testimony and evidence given to investigators. It strongly suggests that a betting identity was given inside information from players and officials, which they then used to inform their betting. Such conduct may involve breaches of NRL rules and relatively minor criminal offences, known as summary offences.
But the betting activities of this punter and his associates are also suspected to involvemoney laundering or the proceeds of crime. One player and one former club staff member are allegedly involved in this betting ring.
Manly has been approached for comment.
Sydney Morning Herald