Former Hong Kong footballer of the year Lee Wai-lim spared jail in match-fixing case
Ex-Pegasus Football Club coach given 180 hours of community service for pocketing HK$10,000 to fix two matches against Biu Chun Rangers in 2016
A former Hong Kong footballer of the year received his “most unforgettable birthday gift” yet when he was spared jail on Friday for pocketing HK$10,000 in exchange for trying to fix matches.
Instead, Lee Wai-lim was sentenced to 180 hours of community service by District Court judge Edmond Lee Chun-man.
He had earlier admitted that he coached players from Hong Kong Pegasus Football Club to score goals in a particular manner and to attempt to lose two matches against Biu Chun Rangers Football Club.
Lee was paid HK$20,000, but as he only managed to lose the first match, he returned half the amount to the bookmaker. As part of his sentence, he had to give HK$20,000 to his former club.
In sentencing, judge Edmond Lee Chun-man noted the seriousness of the offence.
“It has not only seriously affected the image of local footballers but also destroyed the football scene as well as Hong Kong’s reputation as a clean city,” he said.
The judge said such offences were normally not punished with community service. But he accepted the footballer’s decent background, the good report he received from probation officers and the fact that he had already been remanded in jail for six months since his guilty plea. This had brought pain upon Lee and his family, the judge said, amounting to an exceptional circumstance.
Lee’s barrister, Steven Liu, said Saturday was the footballer’s birthday.
“This is going to be his most unforgettable birthday,” Liu said.
The court earlier heard that Lee, 36, acted on the instructions of a Biu Chun Rangers player with whom he had placed bets. While he would get a kickback if he successfully complied with the bookmaker’s requests, the 2009 footballer of the year would have to pay back the money if he failed to do so.
The Hong Kong Football Association’s Code of Ethics prohibits any match-fixing activity and match manipulation, as well as the solicitation or acceptance of any advantage for such purposes.
Lee pleaded guilty on January 11 to one count of being an agent accepting an advantage, and another of conspiracy to defraud. Prosecutors did not pursue a third charge of conspiracy to defraud.
Lee was one of five footballers embroiled in a match-fixing scandal that the Independent Commission Against Corruption said involved bribes totalling HK$60,000.
His co-defendants Kwok Kin-pong, 31, Michael Cheng Lai-hin, 32, Chan Pak-hang, 25, and Lee Ka-ho, 24, were cleared on charges arising from the same events last month after the judge cast doubt on the testimony of a key witness.
Former Hong Kong footballer of the year in match-fixing case ‘accepts responsibility for his wrongs’
The league matches in question were in the Reserve Division, during the 2015-16 season.
The court heard that before a game with Biu Chun Rangers at Shek Kip Mei Park on March 23, 2016, Lee Wai-lim was approached by the opponent’s then defender Liu Songwei. Lee was then the Pegasus coach.
Subsequently, Lee admitted, he instructed player Wong Wai to refrain from scoring in the first 15 minutes but aim for three goals in the second half of the match. Pegasus lost 2-6.
Lee said he and two players – Cheng and Lee Ka-ho – were paid HK$20,000 each. Another HK$10,000 each was given to Chan, as well as Wong, who later told investigators that he had not followed the instructions.
Similar negotiations took place before a game on April 13, 2016, during which Lee Wai-lim signalled to Wong to lose the match for a reward Wong understood to be HK$15,000. But, to Lee’s dismay, his team won 1-0.
After the match, Liu told him that he was in trouble because the game had not gone according to plan. As Liu issued repeated demands for compensation, Lee Wai-lim recalled, he collected HK$10,000 each from Wong, Cheng and Chan.
In mitigation, barrister Steven Liu said his client was “filled with remorse”. The father of a three-year-old son had been working as an electrician, believing that it would be hard for him to stay in the sport.
A dozen mitigation letters were written for the former football star, including one by a sports reporter who said Lee, nicknamed “Prince Wai-lim”, was an inspiration to many youngsters.