Gamblers `in plot to sabotage football'

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A FAR Eastern betting syndicate conspired to sabotage Premiership football matches, a court was told yesterday.

Shutting down the floodlights at Charlton's home game in south-east London against Liverpool earlier this year was part of a plot by the gamblers to have three matches abandoned. Wai Yuen Liu, 38, and two Malaysian accomplices paid pounds 20,000 to a security guard at The Valley, Charlton's home, to let them fit an electrical device that could disable the floodlights by remote control, Mark Dennis, for the prosecution, told the jury at Middlesex Guildhall Crown Court.

But the guard, Roger Firth, could not keep the deal a secret. The police learnt about what was planned and Hong Kong-born Mr Liu, of Kensington, west London, and the two Malaysians, Eng Hwa Lim, 35, and Chee Kew Ong, 49, were arrested outside the ground on 10 February, three days before the match.

Mr Dennis told the court that, during talks with Firth, Ong indicated that they were responsible for two earlier matches being sabotaged.

The first was at Upton Park in November 1997 where West Ham were playing Crystal Palace. The lights went out 20 minutes into the second half just after West Ham drew level.

The second was a month later at Selhurst Park, where Wimbledon were playing Arsenal. Again the lights went out when the scores were level. Either Ong or Lim was in Britain when the games were sabotaged.

Ong, Lim and Firth have all pleaded guilty to conspiracy to cause a public nuisance relating to the game at Charlton. Mr Liu denies the same charge.

The jury was told that although the crime was committed in Britain the profits would have been raked in elsewhere. "The motive... related to illegal Far Eastern betting syndicates," Mr Dennis said.

If a match was abandoned before full time, the winning bets would be determined by the score at that time. A syndicate could make huge profits if it could fix this. Mr Dennis said the plot showed a "complete disregard for the damage that could be caused to the reputation and integrity of the professional game in this country".

Ong and Lim, an electronics engineer, went to Charlton's ground in December to question staff about security arrangements, claiming they were involved in a new Far East stadium. They were referred to Firth, who met them for dinner at a Chinese restaurant where the floodlighting issue was first raised, the court was told.

But police were tipped off and were on the ground on 10 February when Ong and Lim arrived with Mr Liu.

Mr Liu, a heavy gambler, joined the Golden Horseshoe Casino in west London in 1994. Over two years he made about 560 visits and lost about pounds 120,000. The court was told he was heavily in debt.

"It may help to explain why he was happy to be part of this money-making conspiracy," Mr Dennis said.

The trial continues.