Three Lebanese football referees pleaded guilty Monday to accepting free sex from a gambling-linked global syndicate in return for rigging a match in Singapore, with two jailed and sentencing deferred for the third.
A district court judge jailed assistant referees Ali Eid, 33, and Abdallah Taleb, 37, for three months, but deferred sentencing till Tuesday for referee Ali Sabbagh, whom state prosecutors said was the most culpable.
The assistant referees broke down into sobs and repeatedly looked up as if to thank God after Judge Low Wee Ping said they could be freed by later Monday or Tuesday, after remission for good behaviour and due to time already served awaiting sentence.
Turning to Ali Sabbagh, 34, the judge said: “I need time to consider your sentence. I don’t, for the moment, accept that you should be sentenced to six months.”
Deputy public prosecutor Asoka Markandu described Ali Sabbagh as “the most culpable” among the three as he was the one approached by the syndicate and the one who persuaded the two linesmen to accept the sexual bribe.
The three men were arrested for accepting sexual favours in exchange for agreeing to fix an Asian Football Confederation Cup match on April 3 between Singapore-based club Tampines Rovers and India’s East Bengal.
They were abruptly pulled out before the match began.
The three were denied bail and have been detained at Singapore’s Changi prison since April 4.
Eric Ding Si Yang, 31, a Singaporean businessman who allegedly supplied the prostitutes, has also been charged with corruption and granted bail.
The judge lashed out at the FIFA-accredited referees for bringing disrepute to the sport, saying they were probably the first international football match officials to be charged with corruption in Singapore.
“That alone, the fact that you are international officials, in my view, is already an aggravating factor,” he said.
“The Singapore public has an interest in preserving football as a professional sport in Singapore. This is because it has social, recreational and economic value,” he added.
State prosecutors have said Ali Sabbagh was approached by Ding in “mid-2012” in Beirut, indicating a “clear international dimension” to the offences.
Ding, described in Singaporean media as a nightclub owner who drives an Aston Martin sports car, is facing three counts of corruption charges but was freed after posting bail of Sg$150,000 ($121,000).
Singapore has a long history of match-fixing, and syndicates from the wealthy Southeast Asian island have been blamed by European police for orchestrating a network responsible for rigging hundreds of games worldwide.
[Image via Agence France-Presse]