Lucas Paqueta: What we're hearing after charge for alleged betting breaches

West Ham United’s playmaker Lucas Paqueta started for Brazil in their final warm-up game for Copa America against the United States in Florida last night — yet his career remains under a cloud.

Paqueta, 26, who has been cleared to play for his country at the competition in the U.S., was charged by the FA last month with alleged breaches of their betting rules.

He is accused of getting himself deliberately booked in four Premier League matches across two seasons. West Ham’s record signing, who moved from Lyon in the summer of 2022 for £51million ($65.2m at today’s conversion rates), had been given until June 3 to respond to the charges, but his lawyers have been granted more time.

Paqueta is a key player for Brazil and will be expected to start when they kick off their Copa America campaign against Costa Rica on June 25, but his future looks increasingly uncertain.

If found guilty, he could be banned for life, a fear that is shared internally by senior figures at West Ham.

Paqueta, a transfer target for Manchester City last summer, insists he is innocent and has vowed to “fight with every breath to clear my name”.

It was on May 23 that Paqueta was charged by the FA with four separate instances of spot-fixing.

“Spot-fixing” is where a player agrees to influence a certain part of a match — by receiving a yellow card, for example — rather than trying to “fix” the final score.

The news dropped just hours after Julen Lopetegui had been announced as West Ham’s head coach, overshadowing the Spaniard’s first day on the job.

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Paqueta is booked against Bournemouth on the opening day of the 2023-24 season (Henry Browne/Getty Images)

The charges relate to a yellow card Paqueta picked up against Leicester City on November 12, 2022, as well as matches in 2023 against Aston Villa on March 12, Leeds United on May 21, and Bournemouth on the opening day on August 12.

An FA statement said: “It’s alleged that he (Paqueta) directly sought to influence the progress, conduct, or any other aspect of, or occurrence in these matches by intentionally seeking to receive a card from the referee for the improper purpose of affecting the betting market in order for one or more persons to profit from betting.”

It is understood about 60 people placed bets on Paqueta to receive a yellow card in one or all of the aforementioned matches, with the stakes ranging from £7 to £400.

The investigation into Paqueta’s yellow cards centred on bets traced to accounts registered on Paqueta, an island off Rio de Janeiro where the Brazilian grew up — his nickname ‘Paqueta’ refers to the island — but they were not placed by the player.

Many of the bets under investigation are believed to have been made from newly opened accounts. Any yellow card bet from a new account sets off a colour-coded warning used by betting firms to monitor suspicious activity. For example, a red flag comes up when someone opens a new account and then makes a very specific/niche bet and then a double “red flag” is raised if that person then places a maximum/big bet or if there are multiple bets made on one player.

Betway, West Ham’s shirt sponsor, a company that is not widely used in Brazil, first flagged the suspicious activity as the bets were made on their platform, but it was only when other betting firms, including several local Brazilian operators, started reporting similar concerns that the International Betting Integrity Association (IBIA) stepped in.

The IBIA then notified FIFA and the FA.

An insider at the IBIA, who wished to remain anonymous to protect relationships, said that if found guilty, Paqueta was unlikely to play again when his case was held up against others.

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Paqueta played the entire season with the allegations hanging over him (Ian Kington/AFP via Getty Images)

For example, Kynan Isaac, a Stratford Town player (currently in the seventh tier of English football), was banned for 12 years in October 2022 after he was found guilty of spot-fixing and placing illegal bets on an FA Cup match. He was handed a 10-year ban for deliberately earning a booking in a betting scheme with friends, with a further 18-month suspension for breaching FA rules for betting on matches and an extra year for failing to cooperate with the investigation. Lincoln City’s Bradley Wood was banned for six years in 2018 after he deliberately got booked in two matches, with two close friends betting on that happening.

Isaac, 31, who is now a driving instructor, told The Athletic: “You can’t give me a 10-year ban and then expect me to say nothing if someone with four of the same charges receives a lesser sentence. How could you justify that?”

Paqueta’s case is not expected to progress to a hearing for several months, which means it could stretch into the start of next season. No decision will be made before the Copa America final on July 14.

His case will be heard by an independent commission. If Paqueta is found guilty by the commission, the FA could push FIFA for a worldwide ban.

Paqueta has been charged with two further breaches, under the FA rule F3, alleging that he failed to comply with the investigation.

The Metropolitan Police said there was “no police investigation at this time”.

It first emerged that Paqueta was being investigated by the FA for possible betting breaches in August last year following suspicious betting patterns surrounding a yellow card he received in the 93rd minute of West Ham United’s opening game of last season against Bournemouth, when he was booked for shoving defender Illia Zabarnyi and showing dissent towards referee Peter Bankes.

When news of the investigation broke in August, West Ham’s players held a team meeting without then-manager David Moyes and his backroom staff. Paqueta was tearful during the meeting and told his team-mates he was innocent and felt he was being picked on by the FA. Summer signing and Mexico international Edson Alvarez was especially vocal, saying he would protect Paqueta on the pitch if anyone tried to target him. In West Ham’s 5-0 victory over Freiburg in the Europa League round of 16 in March, Paqueta ran to Alvarez to hug him after opening the scoring to show his appreciation.


Alvarez, left, has gone out of his way to look after his fellow South American on the pitch (Catherine Ivill/Getty Images)

During the season, West Ham’s players constantly checked up on Paqueta because he was initially low on confidence. His close friend, Emerson Palmieri, an Italy international who was born in Brazil, was keen to arrange a night out to boost morale, but it did not happen as Paqueta was said to not want the attention.

He was interviewed by the FA last September and provided them with access to his phone the following month. He later bought a new phone.

Meanwhile, Brazilian news website Globo said an investigation in Brazil started when there was an unusual number of bets placed on Paqueta and fellow countryman, Luiz Henrique, to be booked on the same day in March last year for West Ham and Real Betis respectively. They both received yellow cards in their matches.

Both players were invited to speak in front of the Parliamentary Inquiry Commission last September. Paqueta has not done so, while Luiz Henrique was set to but pulled out at the last minute, saying he had to take care of an injury.

A source close to Luiz Henrique, who wished to remain anonymous to protect relationships, said he was innocent. The winger moved to Botafogo in Brazil from Betis for a Brazilian record fee of £17million on January 31.

Paqueta was withdrawn from the Brazil squad in August when it was revealed he was under investigation by the FA.

However, he was later recalled by new manager Dorival Junior for their friendly against England in March this year.

A fortnight ago, Paqueta was cleared to play at Copa America. Brazil are in a group with Costa Rica, Paraguay and Colombia. The CBF (Brazilian football federation) president Ednaldo Rodrigues said in a statement he had reached out to the FA chief executive Mark Bullingham “in a cautious manner, with the aim of ascertaining the player’s current situation” to make sure there were no legal hurdles to Paqueta playing this summer. Quoting an email reply from the FA’s head of integrity, Tarik Shamel, the CBF said the FA had made no request to FIFA to provisionally suspend the player.

Rodrigues said: “The CBF cannot, in an authoritarian manner and in defiance of the English Association that is conducting the case, sentence the player and ban him from playing for the national team, otherwise it would be an obvious anticipation of punishment, which under no circumstances, at least in the light of current national legislation, can be tolerated.”

Warming up for Copa America, Paqueta has enjoyed being in the familiar environment of his Brazil team-mates, where he is particularly close with Real Madrid’s Vinicius Junior and Bruno Guimaraes of Newcastle United, which has given him the freedom to switch off from events back home.

After he was charged on May 23, Paqueta released a statement denying any wrongdoing. He said: “I am extremely surprised and upset that the FA has decided to charge me. For nine months, I have cooperated with every step of their investigation and provided all the information I can. I deny the charges in their entirety and will fight with every breath to clear my name. Due to the ongoing process, I will not be providing any further comment.”

West Ham have pledged to stand by their player.

After West Ham’s final match of the season, a 3-1 loss to Manchester City in May, Paqueta, his wife Duda, and two sons, Benicio and Filippo, flew to Brazil. There, the midfielder contacted pastor Andre Fernandes to pray for him and his family.

The club said Paqueta was “continuing to be fully supported at all times”.

(Top photo: Manu Reino/DeFodi Images via Getty Images)

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