Three Lebanese soccer match officials, accused by police in Singapore of accepting sexual favors to fix an Asian Football Confederation Cup match, were refused bail by a subordinate court judge.
Judge Kamala Ponnampalam agreed with prosecutors in denying the release of referee Ali Sabbagh, 34, and assistant referees Ali Eid, 33, and Abdallah Taleb, 37, on bail. The three accused intend to enter a not guilty plea to the charges, Gary Low, their lawyer, said at today’s hearing.
The accused are “foreigners in Singapore, for a short stay, and with no ties” to the country, Ponnampalam said. She agreed with prosecutors that they posed a flight risk.
Each of the men was provided with a woman at Singapore’s downtown Amara Hotel on April 3 who gave them free sexual services as an inducement to fix the soccer match which was to be played later that day, according to the charges filed last week. Each of the men faces a maximum jail term of 5 years and a fine of as much as S$100,000 ($80,700) if convicted.
“There is no evidence to show there was corruption,” Low said, arguing for bail for his clients. “There’s no evidence that there’s an international match-fixing syndicate involved and that my clients are part of this.”
Eric Ding, a Singaporean businessman accused of offering the three referees the prostitutes was granted S$150,000 bail yesterday, according to The Straits Times newspaper.
The charges come amid wider concerns about match-fixing in soccer. In February, global governing body FIFA suspended people in Italy, South Korea and China for allegedly being involved in rigging games. The three Lebanese officials were replaced before the AFC Cup match between Singapore-based Tampines Rovers and East Bengal, which won 4-2 in a game that included an own goal by its opponent.
“Given the publicity relating to match-fixing in Singapore, it’s in the public interest that justice is not disrupted,” prosecutor Christopher Ong said, in arguing against bail being granted. “The mere impounding of passports will not ensure they don’t leave the country.”
Europol, Europe’s law enforcement agency, said in February a Singapore-based operation tried to fix more than 380 games, including World Cup and European Championship qualifiers, to generate a profit of more than 8 million euros ($10.4 million). An 18-month investigation, Operation VETO, found 425 match officials, club executives, players and others in 15 countries were involved.
The criminal cases are Public Prosecutor v Ali Sabbagh, DAC11104/2013, Public Prosecutor v Ali Eid, DAC11106/2013 and Public Prosecutor v Abdallah Taleb, DAC11105/2013, Singapore Subordinate Courts.
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