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Investigation? What Investigation? Updated!

Two hours and thirty five minutes into the Eurovision 2013 final, Jon Ola Sand (#theboss) said: “I can see the results have been coming in.  I need a couple more minutes to check and verify we have the right result.”Jon Ola Sand

Forty five minutes later, prior to receiving the votes from Cyprus, Denmark were crowned the winners of the Eurovision 2013.

I don’t recall seeing Jon Ola Sand returning to the broadcast to confirm the result’s legitimacy.  That’s not to suggest that Denmark were not worthy winners; they were.  The dubious aspects of the eventual result concern Azerbaijan and their other regional allies.

Two days after the Eurovision final, 15min.lt published an exposé into potential vote manipulation.  Effectively, two men were filmed with a hidden camera by the Lithuanian news site, which describes an advanced system to outwit the Eurovision voting systems. The men in the movie confessed they had bought votes in 15 European countries on Azerbaijan’s behalf. By their own admission, they focused on small countries with small populations and/or low interest for Eurovision, such as Montenegro, Lithuania, Austria, Hungary and Malta.”

15min.lt also interviewed the student who originally disclosed the events to the Lithuanian site.

The EBU’s initial response was to dismiss the allegations with Jon Ola Sand stating the final result was valid.

Two further days later on May 22nd, Competition Event Manager, Sietse Bakker announced an investigation into the events detailed on 15min.lt:

We are looking into this case, but would emphasize that the authenticity of this video has not yet been proven, and nor has a link been established between the individuals in the video and the Azeri delegation, the Azeri act or the Azeri EBU Member Ictimai TV.

Both the jury voting and the televoting at the Eurovision Song Contest are closely observed by PriceWaterhouseCoopers (PwC), as well as by notaries in all participating countries.

We have worked with Digame on the televote processing for nearly ten years. Digame’s platform is built to handle the televoting with absolute professional care, and incorporates systems to detect any attempts at so-called “power-voting”, where people or systems systematically vote for a chosen contestant.

Based on criteria established by the EBU and Digame and overseen by a PwC observer, votes garnered through any instances of power-voting are disregarded.

So what has happened?

Yesterday, Swedish news publication, Aftonbladet revealed that the EBU investigation into the voting controversy had been halted.  Sietse Bakker has since confirmed to me that the EBU’s investigation is very much alive and the Aftonbladet piece misrepresented his comments.

Just over a month since announcing the original investigation into vote buying, Sietse Bakker was quoted as saying: “There are no indications that any of our members haveebu digame initiated such activities,”

Despite the information into voting irregularities surfacing as soon as May 19th, EBU head, Jon Ola Sand (#theboss) has failed to convene a single special meeting until this week, where the main order of business consisted of a handover from SVT to new broadcaster, DR.

Nevertheless, the subject of the voting irregularities was addressed with a statement released on the official Eurovision website:

Together with our voting partner Digame we are systematically and adequately investigating this matter, as you may always expect when such stories arise, and we will continue to do this over the weeks and months to come,” says Jon Ola Sand, Executive Supervisor of the contest on behalf of the EBU.

The conclusions from this investigation, if concrete, will be reflected in future improvements. Earlier, Reference Group chairman Dr. Frank-Dieter Freiling stated: “If we find any clear evidence that the Rules are being breached, including attempts of power-voting, we act immediately to do what we are obliged to do on behalf of the Members; to protect the Eurovision Song Contest brand.

On May 23rd, 15min.tv published information relating to CCTV and car rental data that proved the Russian-speaking men attempting to recruit Lithuanian students were in fact Ukrainian and would have required visas.  The car rental firm were reportedly willing to cooperate and provide all necessary information to the EBU. This article on the importance of drone tracking and detection software can also help to understand the extent of possible threat to personal security.

15min.tv reporter, Liepa Želnien said when speaking to Aftonbladet, that “she gave the EBU contact information for the company which rented a car to the men in the video.”

She continued: “I asked the rental company contact to provide all the information he had to the EBU. He said he would tell them everything, including the names of these guys.”

Aftonbladet asked Sietse Bakker whether the EBU had made contact with the rental company.

Sietse confirmed that they have been unable to contact the rental company as yet. Sietse confirmed to ESCtips “the owner decided not to respond to us [the EBU] anymore.”

Aftonbladet then pushed Sietse Bakker on the findings of the investigation, but Sietse wouldn’t be drawn on the specifics of the case and commented: “The conclusions of this particular investigation, if there is something concrete, will be reflected in future improvements.”

Jon Ola Sand has not yet commented on the conclusions reached by the investigation.

Where have we heard these lines before?

280km northeast of EBU headquarters lies Zurich, the base of football’s world governing body, FIFA.  Sepp Blatter, head of FIFA for 15 years would have us believe that the world’s most popular sport is clean and free of corruption. Sepp Blatter might also protest his own innocence in the countless controversies FIFA has been embroiled in. Despite the many promises, FIFA has never granted access to external auditors. No wonder many of the world’s media and informed members of the public regard FIFA as a thoroughly untrustworthy organisation.

There are very obvious allegations and seemingly clear patterns for the EBU to investigate both from 2013 and previous contests.  The Eurovision.TV website and Sietse Bakker confirmed that the investigation is very much alive, and we sincerely hope the EBU reject the dark methods of FIFA and publish a detailed, transparent report in due course.  Sietse has passionately defended the EBU’s work tonight and I eagerly await the investigation’s findings.

Here are just a few issues I  hope the report investigates, some of these points were highlighted by 12points.tv:

  • Russia, Belarus and Azerbaijan all called for recounts following apparent discrepancies.
  • Lithuanians were being encouraged to vote for Azerbaijan for money and 12 points were duly delivered.
  • Montenegro gave 12 points to Ukraine in the semi final, and none in the final.
  • Malta awarded Azerbaijan 12 points for the fourth consecutive year.
  • In 2012, countless Cypriots voted for Azerbaijan by SMS, but hardly any by phone.
  • A Moldovan jury member openly told the press that she awarded Romania 12 points even though she didn’t like the song.

Whether the incidents are illegal or not, the fans deserve to know the method of investigation, the subsequent findings and the resulting outcome whether that be in the form of sanctions or an eventual rule change.

I have previously stated how I would like juries to be formed in an earlier post, however, the voting system evidently needs overhauling.  Perhaps the EBU should consider restricting voting to phone calls only, and preventing fans from placing more than one vote from the same phone number.

Past voting controversies in ESC

1963: When it was Norway’s turn to announce their votes, the spokesman in Oslo did not use the correct procedure in that the song number, followed by the name of the country, should have been announced before awarding the points. Katie Boyle asked Norway to repeat their results, but the Norwegian spokesman asked Katie to return to them after all the other results were in. When Katie went back to Norway again the votes had mysteriously altered, thus changing the outcome of the contest and giving the victory to Norway’s neighbours Denmark at Switzerland’s expense. In fact, there was some doubt as to whether the Norwegian spokesman gave the correct votes on the firstboyle2 occasion. The full version can be seen here. An investigation cleared anyone of any wrongdoing.

2001-2: Much controversy about vote-swapping and bribery. No particular countries named, but Aftonbladet’s front-page headline “DET VAR UPPGJORT!” (“IT WAS FIXED!”) says something about what may have been going on backstage. According to esctips sources, this fixing did not affect the respective contest winners.

2009: In August 2009 a number of Azeris who had voted for Armenia’s entry during the contest were summoned for questioning at the Ministry of National Security in Baku, during which they were accused of being “unpatriotic” and “a potential security threat”. The Reference Group of the EBU examined the matter at a meeting in Oslo on 11 September 2009. In a statement issued on September 17, the EBU acknowledged that some Azerbaijanis who voted for the Armenian entry had been called to the National Security Ministry and condemned the breach in privacy of Azerbaijanis who had voted via mobile phone. Explaining that current rules put the obligation for protection of voters’ privacy on the respective telecommunications companies, the EBU said it did not have the ability to penalise telephone companies, and Eurovision Song Contest rules would be amended so that in future it could impose sanctions against broadcasters by making a country’s participating broadcaster liable “for any disclosure of information which could be used to identify voters”.

Related: Fast Guard Service Private Investigators.


About Gavster

ESCtips Owner   I’m a qualified designer and dedicate a lot of my free time to keeping the ESCtips show on the road. My family routes allow me to support the UK, Ireland and Italy.


  1. russias voting in mill street 94? it was a classic

  2. Superb Gav.I can tell you who the EBU work for.Themselves.Nepotism always creeps into this sort of set up.Self interest (cushy high paying jobs/perks) are what matters..
    ESC due to its very nature will never be 100% “fair”.The votes will always be a mix of who liked the song and nationalist ferver.However the eastern block has gone far past that.30 years ago it was how many tactical nuclear warheads they could parade past the cheering hordes.Now its winning or doing very well in ESC.
    Denmark would of won anyway this year as it was far better than anything else,but SVT made sure there were no mistakes.It seems the EBUs answer to the eastern block cheating and defrauding the Eurovision public is that they need to cheat or “push” other songs to cheat the cheaters out of winning.That sounds ridiculous, but it seems that’s the EBUs answer.Join the cheats.
    As a punter I don’t care as I/we know how it works.As a fan its a disgusting situation and one that risks destroying the competition.Very sad.

    • I did have a long conversation with Sietse Bakker tonight and he cleared up a number of errors in the Aftonbladet article. He also proposed a number of outcomes should the EBU publish the full results while informing me of the difficulties they face in finding definite proof.

      The difficulty is much of the proof is hearsay. I had a conversation with one of the Danish delegation who was quite open about the broadcaster’s worries regarding voting irregularities from certain nations.

      As I said in the article, I eagerly await the report.

  3. Very interesting.Of course on the one hand they are in a very very difficult position as the very nature of the competition makes it hard to police.On the other they cant just hope this goes away.
    What I find sad is the fact the competition is much better now with the inclusion of all the new countries and they don’t need to “cheat”.
    I think the phone vote only (no SMS/web voting) is the first step.I don’t like the idea of one vote only as some people/most people tend to vote for a couple.However 20 votes is ludicrous and id like to see that down to say 3.
    Another area they need to look at is televote size.Id raise the bar on minimum votes before its jury only.If some smaller countries televotes never count so be it.
    As punters we will need to be very carefull next year because we have no way of knowing how this will play out.Will the east stop their shananigans?Will the Danes push another song from a country that looks best able to beat the east?

    Whatever I have one almost certain conviction for next year.No more than 2 eastern songs will be in the top 10.That is almost certain and will make for some very interesting bets/lays.

    Emmelie saved the EBU an even bigger PR disaster that’s for sure.

  4. I for one am heartened that the EBU appear to be taking this seriously and particularly that Sietse Bakker is taking the time to engage.

    A lot of this article is based on an online Aftonbladet article, which I translated for Gav. I stand by my translation (so I should – translating from Swedish to English is my job); however, at the time I felt that the article itself contained inconsistencies and jumped to conclusions, not least the headline “Despite the evidence – investigation into fraud has been halted” which contradicts a later quote from Sietse: “While this is under investigation, I cannot comment on that.”

  5. I agree Andy.There is no doubt a competition like ESC is very very difficult to police.To be fair to the EBU they have tried with all the jury changes to deal with diaspora and to some decent affect.The problem we have is how do you deal with vote fraud?.If in Malta you only need 1000 votes to get the 12pts and each voter has 30 votes it takes half of a bus with a free sim card to secure the 12pts.(assuming a decent jury score).
    This is the sort of area they need to sort out.Starting with a much lower vote each phone would be a great start.
    Iv followed ESC for a very long time.One thing im 100% certain of this year is Azer were cheating.Why?.However you look at things there is no way Azer should of got more 12pts than Denmark in the final.The 12pts mostly coming from the tiny countries with very low televotes and easy to fix.

    Its harsh but if the EBU find any evidence at all of vote rigging the country should be banned for a year from ESC.In football if the crowd chant racist comments the club is banned.Id like the same approach for ESC.Even if iTV had nothing to do with the rigging id like the approach in football with racist chants.If it happens your out and its up to the “club” to deal with it.

    Im off to spend my winnings from the voice 12.5s)

    • I’d like bans longer than one year.

      What made you think Andrea would win The Voice? I certainly didn’t see it as a possibility, even though she was 10.0 on the night. That song with The Script was dreadful.

      • The Script song was terrible I agree.However her performance of Ho Hey was the best performance of the whole series by far.Leah was very limited and way way overated.The vote base of Leah wouldn’t be voting in The Voice final,theyd all be out on the town.Andrea however had mass support from the very people who would be sat at home watching.With no jury she had a massive chance.
        The market was way out due to the producers pumping Leah as well.Andrea was always going to run her close.It was a fair result as well.She was by far the best singer.If the producers don’t want the best singers to win perhaps they should change the name of the show.I would of taken even more on Andrea but the constant ramping of Leah even put me off increasing what was already a decent sized stake.
        It didn’t help my cold turkey from ESC though.Roll on those selection shows.It will be hard to match how well we did this year that’s for sure, but im quietly confident.

  6. Trouble is, its not as straightforward as that. Lets say for argument’s sake that conclusive evidence is found of such a scam, but it was a private initiative with no links to the Azeri delegation/broadcaster/government. Is it then fair to suspend Azerbaijan? Were they even Azeri nationals?

    If a group of us tried something similar to get the UK to win for betting purposes, should the BBC then be thrown out? The BBC cannot police the actions of the British public, and nor should they.

    • Those are exactly the points Sietse Bakker made during our conversation.

      There are solutions:

      Restrict voting to telephones only
      Allow only one vote per telephone number
      If multiple voting continues, allow only one vote per nation

      The new app voting – not available in UK – isn’t safe either. With a decent hacker involved, multiple votes can be distributed from that too. With a proxy server, it could be done from the very country the votes are intended for.

  7. I agree the first step is lowering the amount of votes per phone and telephone voting only.Plus increase the level where its jury only so these very small states aren’t as easy to fiddle.
    @Andy,,yes its very difficult but if any connection id ban them.The main answer though is around the phone voting.They really must restrict it as the first step.

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