Two Lebanese soccer match officials charged in Singapore with accepting sexual favors to fix an Asian Football Confederation Cup match were remanded pending a bail hearing next week.
A third official who had also been charged yesterday has been hospitalized, Singapore subordinate court Judge Kamala Ponnampalam said today at a hearing into the case.
Each of the men was provided with a woman at Singapore’s downtown Amara Hotel on April 3 who gave them free sexual services as an inducement to fix the soccer match which was to be played later that day, according to the charges filed last night. Each of the men faces a maximum jail term of 5 years and a fine of as much as S$100,000 ($80,700) if convicted.
Assistant referee Ali Eid, 33, had an “episode” in lock-up before today’s hearing and was rushed to a public hospital, Judge Ponnampalam said. No further details on Eid’s condition were available.
Referee Ali Sabbagh, 34, and assistant referee Abdallah Taleb, 37, shouldn’t be allowed bail given the circumstances of the case, the attention it has drawn and possible links to a syndicated operation, prosecutor Asoka Markandu said. The prosecutor asked for the two men to be remanded in separate cells.
Taleb had initially refused to be represented by lawyer Gary Low, who was hired by the Lebanese Football Association to act for all three referees. Taleb agreed after speaking with the vice consul of the Lebanon consulate.
The charges come amid wider concerns about match-fixing in soccer. In February, global governing body FIFA suspended people in Italy, South Korea and China for allegedly being involved in rigging games. The three Lebanese officials were replaced before the AFC Cup match between Singapore-based Tampines Rovers and East Bengal, which won 4-2 in a game that included an own goal by its opponent.
“Singapore has always adopted a zero tolerance approach towards corruption and match-fixing of any form is not condoned in Singapore,” the Asian city’s Corrupt Practices Investigation Bureau said in a statement yesterday.
Europol, Europe’s law enforcement agency, said in February a Singapore-based operation tried to fix more than 380 games, including World Cup and European Championship qualifiers, to generate a profit of more than 8 million euros ($10.4 million). An 18-month investigation, Operation VETO, found 425 match officials, club executives, players and others in 15 countries were involved.
The Football Association of Singapore previously said Sabbagh, Eid and Taleb were pulled from the match after it was informed they were assisting the anti-graft bureau with investigations.
Lebanese Football Association head Hachem Haydar said in a telephone interview before today’s hearing that he was “shocked and surprised” by events in Singapore.
“Of course I know them,” he said. “They are some of the excellent referees here. They are good referees, they have a good performance and their attitude is very good. We are all surprised that something happened.”
The men officiate in the Lebanese top league, AFC games and have overseen matches between national teams, Haydar said.
“They are the elite,” he added. “All the people here are shocked, we know them they are very good persons. I don’t know what happened with this exactly.”
The criminal cases are Public Prosecutor v Ali Sabbagh, DAC11104/2013, Public Prosecutor v Ali Eid, DAC11106/2013 and Public Prosecutor v Abdallah Taleb, DAC11105/2013, Singapore Subordinate Courts.