Anti-corruption officials quiz referee and two assistants in global probe into football match-fixing


Asia Correspondent

Anti-corruption officials in Singapore have accused three Lebanese match officials of receiving free sexual favours in exchange for agreeing to fix a match in an international football tournament.

A referee and two assistant referees were brought before a court in Singapore today and charged with offences under the country’s anti-corruption act.

In a steamy twist to the increasingly labyrinthine investigation into the fixing of football games around the world, a spokesman for Singapore’s Corrupt Practices Investigation Bureau (CPBI) confirmed that a referee and his two linesmen were detained ahead of a match in the Asian Football Confederation (AFC) Cup match between Tampines Rovers and East Bengal.

“Subsequent investigations revealed that the trio corruptly received the form of free sexual service from three females,” spokesman Jeremy Goh Joek Hiang said in a statement. “Singapore takes a serious view of corruption. We adopt a zero-tolerance approach towards corruption, and match-fixing of any form is not condoned in Singapore.”

The three officials, referee Ali Sabbagh and assistant referees Ali Eid and Abdallah Taleb, all from Lebanon, were brought before a court on Thursday and charged with “corruptly receiving gratification, in the form of free sexual service”.

The charge sheet said they had received the sexual services as “an inducement to do an act, to wit, to fix a football match that you will be officiating.” It claimed the men were punishable under section 5(a)(i) of the country’s Prevention of Corruption Act. It named the individual said to have provided the services of three women, and identified the women as well, but police asked that the person not be identified for issues of “sensitivity”.

The charging of the men followed their questioning by police ahead of the game on Wednesday night. Alternative officials, from Malaysia and Thailand, were drafted in to oversee the match between local side Tampines Rovers and Indian club East Bengal, which the Indian side, coached by British manager Trevor Morgan, won 4-2.

Reuters reported that Mr Sabbagh, 33, the Lebanese match official charged by the Singaporean authorities, has been a FIFA-accredited referee since 2008 and officiated at some of the 2014 World Cup qualifying games. He refereed in Nepal’s 2-1 win over East Timor in a second-round match in 2011 and also in Oman’s victory over Burma.

Singapore has found itself at the centre of uncomfortable attention since European police announced earlier this year they were investigating match-fixing networks said to be based in the city state that were responsible for rigging, or trying to rig, 680 local, league and international matches around the world.

In papers filed before a court in Cremona, Italian investigators have named Singaporean businessman, Dan Tan Seet Eng, better known simply as Dan Tan, as the head of the match-fixing network.

After European police made their announcement in February, Singapore has questioned several individuals named by the authorities, including Dan Tan.

At the same time, the Lebanese Football Association punished 24 players for their involvement in rigging international and regional matches. Among the punishments were lifetime bans for international players Ramez Dayoub and Mahmoud el-Ali. There has been no reaction from the Lebanese authorities to the latest developments.

Other match-fixing cases in Asia have occurred in China, Malaysia and South Korea. The Asian Football Confederation (AFC) and FIFA have stressed the need for education to prevent the problem in a region where poorly paid players can be seen as easy targets for criminals. The AFC did not immediately respond to inquiries.

In a statement, the Football Association of Singapore (FAS) said: “Singapore and FAS have a zero-tolerance policy when it comes to match-fixing and football corruption which includes the imposition of permanent suspension from all football activities on any player or official convicted in a court of law for football corruption offences.”

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