Six Happy Valley players among nine arrested over match-fixing allegations
Clifford Lo and Ernest Kao
Six soccer players from the First Division Happy Valley team are among nine people arrested for alleged match-fixing, the Independent Commission Against Corruption said yesterday.
The nine men were six players, an executive officer at the club, a representative of its sponsor, and a former player.
A source familiar with the investigation said the players were Fan Weijun, Chao Pengfei, Sasa Mus, Darko Bozovic, Wilfred Bamnjo and Lau Ka-shing.
"An investigation showed each player was paid tens of thousands of dollars as a reward for participating in rigging a football match," the source said.
Fan and Chao are from the mainland while Mus and Bozovic are from Croatia and Bosnia, respectively. Bamnjo, a Cameroonian who has played in Hong Kong for more than seven years, is registered as a local player.
After being questioned for nearly 48 hours, the nine were released on bail last night. The probe arose from complaints alleging some Happy Valley players were throwing matches in the First Division League and Canbo Senior Shield Competition.
"Enquiries revealed that the sponsor's representative and the executive officer might have offered advantages to the players … as rewards for … rigging football match results," the ICAC said.
On Sunday night, more than 10 Happy Valley players and staff from the Tsing Yi Sports Ground were taken to the ICAC headquarters in North Point to assist with the inquiry. The move came straight after the six-time Hong Kong champions were dealt a 5-0 loss by Sunray Cave Sun Hei. Nine were arrested, while the others were allowed to leave.
ICAC said it was determined to ensure soccer matches remained free from corrupt influence, and encouraged the public to report suspected bribery involving match-rigging activities.
In a statement, the Football Association commended the ICAC's efforts and said it would adopt a "zero-tolerance approach to anyone convicted of a crime related to football activity".
"We will not let a minority of evil people spoil the good work we are doing on behalf of the majority of honest, decent, football-loving people," association chairman Mark Sutcliffe said.
"While it is disappointing that the finger of suspicion is being pointed at a club playing in the HKFA league, we fully support this [ICAC] investigation."
Secretary for Home Affairs Tsang Tak-sing yesterday expressed outrage at the match-fixing allegations, calling them "absolutely unacceptable". He expressed concern that they might hinder support for the sport's development, especially since the HK$60 million Project Phoenix - aimed at revamping the sport - was publicly funded.
"In order to continue using taxpayer funds to support the sport's development, those in the soccer community and the HKFA must earn the trust of the public," Tsang said. "Match-fixing is absolutely unacceptable."
The 130-page Project Phoenix proposal listed several recommendations for study, including allocating "home" grounds to each First Division team, restructuring the association to put it back on firm financial footing, and encouraging education programmes for young players.
Just 15 of 33 initiatives promised in the project have been delivered since its launch in 2009.
Sutcliffe said that rooting out corruption was the best thing for the long-term future of the sport and that the allegations merely reinforced the need for Project Phoenix. In December, another First Division team, Tuen Mun, was accused of throwing a match against Yokohama FC.