The Romanian Network – The Story of Dubious Friendly Matches

The Romanian Network – The Story of Dubious Friendly Matches

Costin Ștucan –

The story on dubious friendly matches involving Romanian referees first appeared in the Romanian Gazeta Sporturilor.

Write down this recipe:

  • Ten days of friendly matches in Cyprus and Antalya (Turkey)
  • Five friendly matches with Romanian teams involved that are considered “suspect” by a world betting monitoring agency
  • Three penalty kicks missed by the Romanians and all of them shockingly retaken after the referees saw some invisible irregularities.

According to Federbet, all these games were “strange”. The agency managed by the Italian Francesco Baranca has offices in Belgium and Spain, and last year they presented a match fixing report to a European Parliament Committee. The report also included Romanian teams: one Liga 1 match (Viitorul – ASA Târgu Mureș 6-1), three games from Liga 2, and two friendlies.

Federbet is monitoring the odd movement of, and the total amount of money placed on sporting events. They use the data from bookmakers. Their intelligence gathered in the last week and a half shows that bizarre things happened during five friendly matches played by Astra, CFR Cluj, Pandurii and FC Botoșani.

2016 Romanian champions Astra were involved in two friendly matches of that kind.

In the first friendly match, played on 22th of January in Cyprus, there were no complaints against the referee. Astra won 4-2 against the Russian team Ural Ekaterinburg. At half-time, the score was 1-1.

“We monitored odds from a lot of bookmakers and have suspicions about regular occurrances related to the match,” is written on the Feberbet Facebook account next to the highlights of the match.

The system works like that. Sudden odds movements appear when somebody is placing unusual amounts of money on a certain event.

Three days later there was another dubious friendly match

Three days later, Astra lost 3-1 against the Polish team Pogon Szczecin. This time, the referees stole the show. During the first half, at 0-0, the referee pointed at penalty spot following a corner kick curled into the Pogon box. Nobody knows why he took this decision. On the highlights, there is no obvious fault or handball.


Even more bizarre, the Romanian international Cristian Săpunaru opted to pass the ball into the goalkeeper’s arms in the resulting penalty kick. Then, the referee made his move. He decided that the penalty kick must be retaken!

Daniel Niculae took the ball and he missed. From the TV images, there is a strong feeling that Astra players intentionally missed the penalties. Săpunaru and Niculae could not be contacted to explain their decisions.

But the Poles soon had their own penalty kick, awarded by the referee just before half-time. They too sent the ball off target.

“Do you bet? What do you want? Stop the game!,” shouted Astra coach Marius Sumudica to the referee from the touchline. Funny, this is the same Sumudica, who was suspended for two months last year by the Romanian FA for “betting”.

The FA officials discovered his online betting account. The self-admitted former gambling addict Sumudica was placing bets on international football and tennis matches and also on Romanian Liga 1 matches, but never on his team games—at least, not on the account discovered by the FA officials.

Federbet highlights several dubious friendly matches

According to Federbet Facebook account, the Astra vs Pogon highlights are the “funniest you’ve ever seen”. The agency’s attention was drawn by a sudden odds collapse on over 2.5 goals starting at the 30th minute. Of course, before the referee awarded the two strange penalties.

After the break, the referees took a secondary role. With the teams leveled at 1-1, the odds again collapsed. This time somebody placed money on over 3.5 goals and the bookies were offering a reduced 1.55 odds. Then, Astra twice conceded after two horrendous mistakes by goalkeeper Gavrilas. The game ended 3-1. That means over 3.5 goals.

Now, another strange detail.

According to the Romanian media, the referees were “Bulgarian nationals”. Despite the fact that the referees were hired by match agents, the Cypriot, Antonio Antoniou (close to jailed Romanian agent-brothers Ioan and Victor Becali and a close friend of former Chelsea player and former Kuban Krasnodar and Dinamo Moscow coach Dan Petrescu) says he doesn’t know where they came from. Antoniou had organised the Astra training camp in Cyprus.

But Gazeta Sporturilor has evidence that the “Bulgarian” referee who ordered the Astra and Pogon players to retake two penalty kicks was Romanian. His name is Cristian Catana, a third league referee and also a secretary for AFJ Dambovita (the Dambovita County Football Association).

Catana denies that he was abroad

When contacted by the journalists, Catana said he could not talk but he promised he would “eagerly talk in 10 minutes time”.

Reporter: Are you abroad right now?

  • Catana: (hesitant) No.
  • Reporter: Aren’t you in Cyprus?
  • Catana: No, no.
  • Reporter: Are you in Romania?
  • Catana: Yes, yes.
  • Reporter: Could you meet us today for a few minutes in your home town?
  • Catana: Can you please call me in 10 minutes? I’m very busy.

Ten minutes later, he did not answer the calls. More than that, he blocked the journalist’s phone number.

His superior, the president of AJF Dambovita, Emil Tudor, says the referee is on holiday: “He’s abroad. He left for London two weeks ago”. The president of the Dambovita County Referee Committee, Ioan Negoescu, is in London, but he does not know where Catana is: “I only know he’s also abroad”.

On the match highlights, the referee is sporting a thick beard and has his head freshly shaved. This is a different image from Catana’s regular look. After he saw the images, the AJF chief said that the man in the pictures is not Catana. But two Gazeta sources confirmed that the image is in fact Catana—the referee who claims that he is in Romania.

Cristian Catana

He changed his look in the past two weeks.

On top of that, one of his assistant referees from Astra vs Pogon was identified as Laurentiu Nicolae, another referee from the Romanian County of Dambovita. He opted to keep his look untouched.

However, this is not the only match singled out by Federbet that Laurentiu Nicolae is involved in.

The European Parliament has looked into dubious friendly matches

On January 17, match agent Antoniou also organised a friendly between a Romanian team and a Russian club. Three times champion of Romania CFR Cluj met FC Ufa. The teams were old friends. They met in 2015 as well, and that game was also included in the report presented by Federbet to the European Parliament. The referee suspended the match before the end of 90 minutes.

In 2017 it was again the referee’s time to shine. He inexplicably showed seven minutes of time added to the first half and placed the ball on the penalty spot for CFR in the third added minute. Federbet data showed “there had to be goal in the first half, and over 1.5 after 90 minutes”.

Ufa officials strongly contested the decision and the match commentator (Ufa press officer) can be heard saying, “Looks like someone needed a goal in the first half. Too many added minutes, and two weird penalties… ”

Nascimento took the kick but missed. The assistant raised his flag and the referee showed the penalty point again. The kick had to be taken again! “I’ve never seen such comedy before,” said the Russian commentator.

The player converted the retaken penalty and CFR scored one more time in the 85th minute.

The match ended with an expected over 1.5 goals.

“I believe the referees were from Lithuania. No, no, they were Bulgarians. They didn’t fill out the match papers so there are no names on them. I didn’t hear them talking,” CFR president Iuliu Muresan told Gazeta Sporturilor.

Later, he called back to tell the journalists that the referees “were Slovenians”. Match agent Antonio Antoniou said that he brought the referees to the match he doesn’t know their nationalities: “It was their turn. They didn’t speak Romanian”.

dubious friendly matches

In the centre you can see Catana sporting a beard.

Reporter: But how does this referee system work during the training camps?

Antoniou: The Cypriot referees come to us when they don’t have Cypriot league games to officiate. Others come because they are in Cyprus. They are getting money for this. Some of them receive €300, others €400.”

From the CFR vs Ufa highlights, Gazeta identified not one but two Romanian referees: assistant Laurentiu Nicolae and match official Dan Petre, another lower league referee from Dambovita. CFR chief Muresan appeared to be surprised: “Wooow! Everybody knew they were Bulgarians. Are you serious, were they Romanians?”

Antoniou doesn’t know their names but he’s sure the referees were not Romanians. “Romanians, how can Romanians be in Cyprus? It’s impossible. I don’t believe it!”

Romanian referees use disguises

Gazeta called Dan Petre. When asked where he was, he answered, “I’m in Brasov (a Romanian town) now with my girlfriend. Why do you ask?”

  • Reporter: You do appear in some pictures from Cyprus.
  • Petre: It can’t be.
  • Reporter: May I send you some pictures on Whatsapp?
  • Petre: Ok, but it can’t be…
  • Right after he received the photo of himself preparing for a game kick-off in Turkey just the day before, Dan Petre refused to answer any further calls. He also blocked the journalist’s phone number.
  • But AJF president for the past quarter of century, Emil Tudor, recognised him in the pictures: “Yes, he’s Dan Petre. What was he doing there? For betting? I have to tell you he’s not a saint, but Catana (the bearded referee) was a decent guy. I have something to do tomorrow but on Saturday I will start to gather data about this case”.
  • Do you believe it is over?
  • Nah.

In truth, all the referees that went on the pitch for CFR vs Ufa game were Romanians. The second assistant is Cristian Grigorascu, a retired referee and the now vice-president of the Dambovita County Referee Commitee.

Dan Petre refereeing Amkar Perm vs FC Botosani

Tudor denies this: “The guy in the picture doesn’t seem to be Grigorascu”.

But the dark skinned man from the picture also appears alongside Dan Petre on the Amkar Perm club website.

Russian teams are frequently involved in dubious friendly matches

Eight days after CFR won against Ufa in Cyprus, the Russian team, Amkar, lost against FC Botosani, a small Romanian Liga 1 team. The game was played in Turkey, across the Mediterranean, and the Romanians clearly beat their opponents (3-0). The first two goals were scored from the penalty spot. The second one came in the sixth minute of additional time bizarrely given by the referee—nobody knows why it was awarded.

Who was the culprit?

The same Dan Petre.

Botosani midfielder Vasvari had already scored in the first penalty but this time he could not beat the keeper.

No problem.

The referee ordered the penalty to be retaken, much to the bewilderment of the Russians.

Herghelegiu scored and the first half was over right after that. “The odds for over 2.5 goals collapsed in live mode”, Federbet explained the unseen events behind the scene.

The agent that organised this friendly is a Moldavian citizen called Anatolie Sarpe. He is described by FC Botosani president as a “very professional guy”. The discussion between Sarpe and the reporter went as follows:

  • Reporter: Do you know what nationality the referees were?
  • Sarpe: Turkish. Why do you put to me this question? It seems a dubious question.
  • Reporter: Who brought the referees to the game?
  • Sarpe: Why? If I told you they are Turkish…
  • Reporter: We are curious…
  • Sarpe: They brought them here by car.
  • Reporter: Do you have their names?
  • Sarpe: Yes. I will call you back in two minutes and I will give you all the details. Names, everything.

Sarpe called back a few hours later, when the story was already published. “The referees were Romanians. When the game was played I was on the plane from Malta. I had been informed they were Turkish. Believe me, I’m clean. I want to have a lie detector test”.

The “Turks” from Antalya are in fact the “Slovenians” from Cyprus. That is, they are Romanians.

Why do they use false flags while refereeing friendly matches abroad?

Technically Romanian referees need approval from the Romanian FA to referee friendly matches abroad

According to the Romanian FA Referee Committee (CCA), any referee can decide to go abroad for a friendly game but first he has to get the CCA approval. The three above mentioned active referees and the fourth former referee went to Cyprus and Turkey on their own. They didn’t inform their superiors.

“We are informed about the case and we have are undergoing an investigation”, CCA vice-president Alexandru Deaconu told Gazeta.

However, why did these guys decide not to ask for CCA approval? It was just a small formality. Lucas Pérez

This is where the case enters the dark territory of match fixing. While you read this story, there is an ongoing trial in Singapore against two local men accused of bribing three Macedonian referees in order to fix some games during the Antalya winter training camp in 2014.

Two of those matches were Steaua Bucharest friendlies against Sturm Graz and Dan Petrescu’s Dinamo Moscow. According to the Singapore prosecutors, the referees received €42,000 between them to fix the results needed by the Asian betting syndicates.

The three Macedonians were hired to referee the games by a Dutch-Turk match and travel agent called Ilengiz Gurel. Last week, he again organised Steaua’s training camp in Antalya. He’s an associate of Cristian Voicu, a Romanian travel agent and a relative of Steaua’s coach Laurentiu Reghecampf.

There is a whole network that organizes referees for friendly matches

In 2012, Gurel was accused by the German and Dutch media of hiring suspicious Bulgarian referees for AZ Alkmaar and Werder Bremen friendlies in Antalya. The only problem was that one of the match officials had been suspended by the FA in Sofia for match fixing a game in South America.

Still, he had no problem in coming to Antalya under a false identity.

Just like the Romanians from Dambovita County.

Gazeta finally called Costin Negraru, at the Romanian FA Integrity Office, who said, “We are aware of the case and we are working with the Referee Committee to solve it. We will give you more details when the case is over”.

The case is far from over.

Costin Ștucan is an investigative reporter for Romanian leading sport journal Gazeta Sporturilor. Follow him on Twitter @CostinStucan