Singapore in the dock over Europol inquiry into fixing of football matches

Europol investigation into match-rigging involving residents of city state raises doubts over its reputation for low levels of corruption

PUBLISHED : Wednesday, 06 February, 2013, 12:00am
UPDATED : Wednesday, 06 February, 2013, 4:22am


Singapore's reputation for low levels of corruption came under fire yesterday after revelations that a criminal gang based in the city state rigged hundreds of football matches in Europe and elsewhere.

While police only said they were assisting their European countrerparts and some of the country's state-linked media downplayed the news, analysts said the scandal could harm the wealthy island's squeaky-clean image.

In just the latest indication that Singapore is at the heart of a global match-fixing empire, European police said they had smashed a network rigging hundreds of games, including in the Uefa Champions League and World Cup qualifiers.

Europol said a five-country investigation had identified 380 suspicious matches targeted by a Singapore-based betting cartel, whose illegal activities stretched to players, referees and officials across the world. A further 300 suspicious matches had been identified in Africa, Asia, and South and Central America in the course of the investigation.

Singapore's police yesterday said it was helping its European counterparts investigate a syndicate accused of fixing the outcome of hundreds of matches.

"The authorities in Singapore are assisting the European authorities in their investigations into an international match-fixing syndicate that purportedly involves Singaporeans," the police said in a statement.

"Singapore takes a strong stance against match-fixing and is committed to working with international enforcement agencies to bring down transnational criminal syndicates, including those that involve the acts of Singaporeans overseas, and protect the integrity of the sport."

The role of Singaporeans in international match-rigging has long been clear, with Wilson Raj Perumal jailed in Finland in 2011 and Tan Seet Eng, or Dan Tan, wanted in Italy.

But the latest news shone a harsh light on the problem and raised potential problems for Singapore's reputation, as well as questions about how authorities are dealing with the syndicates, analysts said.

"This story has the potential to severely damage the global reputation of Singapore as a safe and ethical financial hub in Asia," said Jonathan Galaviz, US-based consultancy Galaviz & Co's managing director, who has closely watched Asia's gaming industry.

"Singapore's public policy makers need to reassess whether they have enough resources dedicated to monitoring and enforcing laws relating to illegal gambling and sports corruption in the country," he said.

"It looks like this global investigation has a long way to go and Singapore's government must get ahead of the curve on it quickly," Galaviz said.

"Major questions will arise as to what the government authorities in Singapore knew, when did they know it, and why this illegal network running out of Singapore was not caught sooner."

Galaviz said football was a sport with a global audience, including millions of fans in Asia, and while there are small cases of illegal sports betting in almost every country, "it looks like this case is going to have global ramifications of epic proportions".

"What is disturbing about this case is that it seems that Singapore's status as a financial hub was potentially being used for nefarious purposes, and that is going to be extremely disturbing to a lot of people," he added.

Neil Humphreys, a popular sports columnist and author, asked why "so little is being done to question Singaporean individuals allegedly involved in such a global match-fixing operation".

"More pertinently, the issue has not received quite the same front-page media attention that it has in other football-popular countries, despite the obvious fact that Singapore is allegedly home to the ringleaders of the world's biggest match-fixing syndicate," he said.

Agence France-Presse, Reuters