SINGAPORE: The alleged mastermind of a global football match-fixing syndicate is among 14 people held in a crackdown in Singapore, a source said Thursday.
Singaporean businessman Dan Tan is the “suspected leader” mentioned in a police statement announcing the arrests, the source told AFP.
Match-fixing syndicates linked to Singapore had targeted hundreds of games worldwide, including those in the Champions League and World Cup qualifiers, European police agency Europol said in February.
A joint statement from Singapore’s police and anti-corruption bureau late Wednesday said 12 men and two women were nabbed in a 12-hour operation that ended in the early hours of Tuesday.
They were suspected of “being part of an organised crime group involved with match-fixing activities“, the statement said.
The arrests “are very significant operational steps against one particular Singapore gang for fixing matches and creating betting frauds“, Chris Eaton, former head of security for world football governing body FIFA, told AFP.
Eaton, a former Interpol officer and currently the director of Sport Integrity at the Doha-based International Centre for Sport Security (ICSS), described Tan’s detention as “a very significant arrest“.
“I think it is extremely important for the global efficacy of football and for, in fact, the eradication of the organised crime groups that are operating in this area,” he said.
While nine of the suspects have been granted bail, five are being held under a section of the penal code which allows for up to a year’s detention without trial and is usually used in cases involving criminal gangs.
Interpol secretary general Ronald Noble had previously called on Singapore to arrest Tan, who is wanted by Italian authorities over the “calcioscommesse” betting scandal.
In May Singapore police said Tan was “assisting investigators in Singapore“. In the same month he was charged in Hungary over the alleged manipulation of 32 games in three countries.
That development came after Europol in February said a five-country probe had identified 380 suspicious matches targeted by Singapore-based betting cartels, whose illegal activities stretched to players, referees and officials worldwide.
Tan has previously vigorously protested his innocence and said he was mystified about why he had been accused.
“Why I’m suddenly described as a match-fixer, I don’t know. I’m innocent,” he told The New Paper’s Zaihan Mohamed Yusof in a rare 2011 interview.
Interpol chief Noble welcomed the Singapore arrests as an “important step in cracking down on an international match-fixing syndicate by arresting the main suspects in the case, including the suspected mastermind”.
Match-fixing has proved a chronic and growing blight on football and it hit the headlines again this week after six men were charged over a multi-million dollar scam in Australian state football.
Reports said convicted Singaporean match-fixer Wilson Raj Perumal, who claims to be a former associate of Dan Tan, was involved despite being under police protection in Hungary.
Experts say match-fixers who honed their skills in Singapore and neighbouring Malaysia have since spread to other leagues, providing a link between local gangs and Asian betting syndicates.
Neil Humphreys, a Singapore-based football writer, said Singapore had taken its time in making arrests “as authorities wanted to compile enough evidence to take down the entire syndicate”.
“The number of arrests suggests a major breakthrough in the hunt to shut down an entire match-fixing syndicate,” he said.
Despite the arrests in Australia and Singapore, the ICSS’ Eaton said global football “remained in crisis” because of the match-fixing scourge.
In the latest case within Singapore, three Lebanese referees were convicted in June of accepting sexual services in return for fixing games.
The trial of the alleged match-fixer in that case, 31-year-old Singaporean businessman Eric Ding Si Yang, is continuing. – AFP