Former cricketer Jean Symes sentenced to four years for match-fixing – more prosecutions to follow

Former cricketer Jean Symes sentenced to four years for match-fixing – more prosecutions to follow
Jean Symes at CSA High Performance Centre on 18 April 2013 in Pretoria, South Africa. (Photo: Lee Warren / Gallo Images)

Former Lions batter Jean Symes became the third of seven players to receive a criminal conviction for his role in a match-fixing scandal seven years ago.

At a time when cricket in South Africa is in a happy place after a successful summer of competition, a stark reminder of the dark side of the sport emerged in the Specialised Commercial Crimes Court in Pretoria last week.

Former Lions player Jean Symes, who was one of seven players banned from cricket by Cricket South Africa (CSA) due to various breaches of CSA’s anti-corruption code during the 2015/16 Ram Slam T20 competition, was sentenced to four years in prison.

Those four years are suspended for five years on the condition that he is not convicted of committing a similar offence during the period of suspension.

At the age of 37, Symes’ career is over, and while he can consider himself lucky that he is not serving actual jail time, he will have a criminal record, which will certainly limit his future career options.

Symes was the third player from the scandal to be successfully prosecuted by the Directorate for Priority Crime Investigation (the Hawks) and more are likely to follow.

This statement from the Hawks: “Former Lions cricket player Jean Symes (37) appeared in the Pretoria Specialised Commercial Crime Court on 27 March 2023 where he faced a charge of corruption in terms of the Prevention [and Combating] of Corrupt Activities Act.

“Symes was found guilty and sentenced to four years imprisonment, wholly suspended for five years on condition that the accused is not convicted of committing a similar offence in terms of the [Prevention and Combating of Corrupt Activities Act], during the period of suspension.”

Former Proteas ODI batsman Gulam Bodi arrives at the Specialised Commercial Crimes Court on 18 October 2019. (Photo: Gallo Images / Phill Magakoe)

Ringleader Gulam Bodi was the first to go down and was sentenced to five years in prison in 2019, while Pumelela Matshikwe (37) was sentenced for the same offence by the same court on 10 June 2022.

That was after he admitted to receiving a total enticement of R50,000 to participate in match-fixing during the Ram Slam tournament. He received a five-year sentence, which was also suspended.

Bodi was approached by bookmakers from India to identify and recruit cricket players to participate in the scheme. After a CSA investigation in early 2016, Bodi pleaded guilty to various offences under the CSA anti-corruption code and agreed to a ban of 20 years.

Thami Tsolekile of South Africa during a nets session at The Kia Oval on 17 July 2012 in London, England. (Photo: Gareth Copley / Getty Images)

Others who accepted bans from cricket following the investigation are former Proteas wicketkeeper Thami Tsolekile, fast bowler Ethy Mbhalati, former Proteas left-arm seamer Lonwabo Tsotsobe and Proteas batter Alviro Petersen.

“Bodi was the first to be convicted in this case to five years imprisonment in October 2019, after he admitted to charges of attempting to fix matches in the same series,” the Hawks statement read.

“Bodi acted as an intermediary for international betting syndicates, approaching certain players with a view to engaging in fixing activities during the competition.”

Symes pleaded not guilty, which makes his sentencing all the more lenient because Matshikwe admitted guilt.

Symes’ lawyers reportedly argued that certain admissions made during the CSA anti-corruption unit (ACU) investigation led by Louis Cole, including his sanction agreement where he admitted to taking money, were inadmissible in the criminal proceedings.

He failed in that attempt and from then on, his case was doomed. It is also understood that Symes was considering emigrating to Ireland. That might not be possible now that he has a criminal record.

Next to be prosecuted

While many people will question why the Hawks are pursuing cricketers so vigorously over comparatively minor crimes compared to State Capture and other corruption cases, the fact remains – a crime is a crime.

Such convictions may also prove an important deterrent to others who may wish to undermine the integrity of the successful new SA20 league, or other competitions, by engaging in corrupt activities.

In plea bargains with the ACU, Tsolekile agreed to a 12-year ban for his role in match-fixing offences in the T20 Ram Slam competition. Tsolekile, along with Matshikwe, Mbhalati and Symes, were sanctioned on 8 August 2016.

Tsotsobe was also banned in 2017, as was Petersen.

Fast bowler Matshikwe and batter Symes, who both played under Tsolekile for the Lions franchise, agreed to bans of 10 and seven years respectively. Former Titans fast bowler Mbhalati agreed to a 10-year ban.

Tsolekile, Mbhalati, Tsotsobe and Petersen are also no doubt in the Hawks’ sights. They have complicated their cases after making several public claims – which have been debunked – that CSA’s investigation was racially motivated.

Tsolekile, Mbhalati, Petersen and Tstosobe were permitted to introduce their conspiracy theory during the 2021 Social Justice and Nation Building (SJN) hearings, which was destroyed when Cole and CSA’s external legal counsel, David Becker, took the stand.

In August 2020, Tsolekile appeared as a guest on Robert Marawa’s radio show and claimed that CSA’s anti-corruption unit, led by respected Judge Bernard Ngoepe – a former Judge President and a former acting judge in the Constitutional Court – was guilty of targeting black players and of racial bias during the original investigation.

Tsolekile also claimed that he had not received the charges and was not presented with evidence, accusations with no basis in fact and which have since been dismissed.

Ngoepe serves as the independent chairperson of CSA’s anti-corruption unit and he reacted firmly to Tsolekile’s assertions at the time.

“The allegation that the investigation deliberately targeted black players must be rejected,” Ngoepe said in a statement. “Both white and black players were investigated and charged, based on the evidence that was collected and presented.”

On the allegation made by Tsolekile that he was not presented with any evidence and did not receive any charges, Ngoepe said: “This is not the truth. Mr Tsolekile received a formal charge sheet as is required under the code. He was also presented with extensive evidence in the presence of his lawyer.”

The ombudsman in the SJN hearings, Dumisa Ntsebeza SC, subsequently found that there was no basis to the claims of racial bias.

Match-fixing problem

Match-fixing in cricket has been a serious problem for decades, and while it is less likely at the highest levels today because players are remunerated so richly, lesser players remain highly susceptible to unscrupulous bookmakers and teammates.

During the recent Women’s T20 World Cup, several bookmakers were quietly removed from stadiums when players alerted the CSA and International Cricket Council (ICC) anti-corruption units.

A source also confirmed to Daily Maverick that several bookmakers were removed from last year’s men’s domestic T20 competition in Potchefstroom, thanks to players flagging suspicious behaviour and questions from strangers.

Since former Proteas skipper Hansie Cronje infamously admitted to taking money from bookmakers in 2000 and 2001, the ICC and local authorities have tightened their policing of match-fixing. But they have also poured vast resources into player education on the matter.

Any seemingly innocent conversation about the state of the pitch, the team line-up or other playing-related matters with a stranger, or even someone known to the player, has the potential to be used by bookmakers to gain inside information.

The South African Cricketers’ Association runs anti-corruption courses and the CSA has a full-time anti-corruption officer. DM


Comments - Please in order to comment.

  • jcdville stormers says:

    The love of money?Seems a problem in South Africa

  • John Smythe says:

    And how much money did he make in exchange for his life?

  • Grenville Wilson says:

    Question “Why should a criminal record limit this cricketer’s career options when a criminal record has no affect in South Africa on Public Servants and even to an uncomfortable degree in the Private Sector. In fact a “Criminal Record” seems to be a prerequisite in many top jobs.

  • Richard Bryant says:

    Strange, nothing is said about the Indian bookmakers who I presume are immune from prosecution and continue to operate freely in their home country?

  • andrew farrer says:

    “people will question why the Hawks are pursuing cricketers so vigorously” – DUH, cause they’re not anc polititians

    • Rory Macnamara says:

      Spot on !

      • Kobus Loubser says:

        🤓 It is strange how easily this corruption (of a few ten thousands Rands) is dealt with and legal penalties introduced whilst our politicians get away with Billions and cannot be tried, convicted, sentenced or impeached without additional millions of Taxpayer money being spent in their defence….. just saying!

  • Rory Macnamara says:

    so the criminality of government, public service and some business is filtering to sport. such a shame.

  • Jane Crankshaw says:

    Zuma gets to stay at home for orchestrating the theft of R500 billion of taxpayers money and this guy gets 4 years for match fixing? Come on man! Seems decidedly racist to me!
    And by the way…where are the Guptas? They should be in jail too!

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