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Lebanese ref gives evidence in corruption trial

July 15, 2013

SINGAPORE (AP) — A Lebanese referee serving time in a Singapore jail has given evidence at the start of the corruption trial of accused match fixer Eric Ding Si Yang.

Ali Sabbagh, dressed in purple prison overalls, avoided eye contact with Ding as he entered the courtroom Monday before revealing details of plans to fix matches.

Sabbagh said he first met Ding, who was calling himself ‘James Zen,’ at Beirut in June, 2012, and was lured by the promise of rich pay days.

“I was told I could stop anytime but most don’t,” Sabbagh told a Singapore court. “If I did a ‘job’ for James, linesmen would also be involved to make it easier for me.”

He identified James Zen as Ding, a 31-year-old nightclub owner who is accused of trying to rig matches in Kuwait, Indonesia and Jordan.

Sabbagh said Ding wanted him to help fix results of matches, and sent him 35 links to YouTube videos about match fixing with instructions to study them and then delete the emails.

“He wanted me to understand and learn how to make such decisions for matches in future,” Sabbagh said.

Ding was arrested in April and charged in May with three counts of corruption for allegedly supplying prostitutes to the three Lebanese match officials, in hopes of swaying them to fix the Asian Football Confederation match between Singapore-based Tampines Rovers and India’s East Bengal.

He denies all the charges and is expected to face a nine-day trial. If found guilty, Ding faces a maximum of five years in jail, a fine of up to 100,000 Singapore dollars ($79,000), or both, on each count of corruption.

Sabbagh was last month sentenced to six months in jail by a Singapore court after pleading guilty to influencing two linesmen to help fix a match in Singapore in April. All three men were arrested before the match and charged with “corruptly receiving gratification in the form of free sexual service” arranged by Ding.

Linesmen Ali Eid, 33, and Abdallah Taleb, 37, were sentenced to three months in jail but were released within hours after the court took into account time already served while waiting for their sentences.

At that trial, Gary Low, lawyer for the Lebanese trio, had argued that Sabbagh did not make any financial gain and added that the referee was willing to be a “star witness” in cooperating with authorities to assist in investigations into illegal gambling.

On Monday, Sabbagh told the court that Ding offered him $10,000 and “specifically wanted three goals” in a September 2012 match in Kuwait between Kuwait SC and Jordan-based Al Wehdat SC.

The match finished in a 0-0 draw, and Sabbagh said it angered Ding.

“He said I made him lose too much money and I was not a man but a child. ‘Now my partners will be angry. I will see if I give you a second chance.’” Sabbagh said.

Despite its immense wealth, Singapore has been hit by football corruption fueled by illicit gambling syndicates.

In May 2012, Singapore authorities charged a top referee and a former Malaysia international with conspiring to fix a Malaysia Super League match.

In another closely watched case, Singapore national Wilson Raj Perumal, who had ties to Asian and Eastern European gambling syndicates, was jailed in Finland for match-fixing.

Another Singapore businessman, Dan Tan Seet Eng, has been accused of coordinating a global crime syndicate that made millions of dollars betting on rigged matches in Italy and other parts of the world. Dan Tan has reportedly been interviewed by Singapore authorities but no charges have been laid.

Update hourly