x Abu Dhabi, UAEWednesday 26 July 2017

Singapore jails third Lebanese football official for accepting sexual favours to fix match

Ali Sabbagh, a Fifa-accredited referee, had admitted having sex with a woman hired by accused Singapore match-fixer Ding Si Yang, who has denied wrongdoing.

SINGAPORE // A Singapore court jailed a Lebanese referee for six months today for accepting sexual favours to fix a football game, a day after two fellow countrymen were jailed for the same offence amid an international investigation into football corruption.

Ali Sabbagh, a Fifa-accredited referee, had admitted having sex with a woman hired by accused Singapore match-fixer Ding Si Yang, who has denied wrongdoing.

Sabbagh and two Lebanese assistant referees were convicted of accepting sexual bribes to fix a future match, but no specific game was identified by the prosecution.

He was withdrawn as referee only hours before an AFC Cup match between Singapore's Tampines Rovers and India's East Bengal on April 3.

Singapore has been the focus of a probe into football match-fixing, with European anti-crime agency Europol saying in February that hundreds of matches had been fixed by a global betting syndicate based in the South-east Asian city-state.

Sabbagh's sentence will be backdated to April 4 when he was detained by police along with assistants Ali Eid and Abdallah Taleb, who were jailed for three months on Monday for accepting sexual favours from prostitutes hired by Ding.

Mr Ding, who has also been arrested, is out on bail and has pleaded not guilty to three bribery charges against him - one for each of the Lebanese defendants.

"You actively allowed yourself to be cultivated by Ding," Singapore's Subordinate Courts Judge Low Wee Ping told Sabbagh before announcing the jail sentence.

"If you had not been arrested by the CPIB (Corrupt Practices Investigation Bureau) and convicted in this court, one wonders how many international football matches you would have gone on to fix."

Singapore prosecutors had described Ali Sabbagh as "the most culpable" of the three Lebanese since he had more influence on the outcome of a match as referee. He also influenced the two assistants into accepting the sexual bribes, prosecutors said.

Ali Eid and Abdallah Taleb, who are also Fifa-accredited, were released on Monday after being granted time off their sentence for good behaviour, Singapore authorities said.

In Sabbagh's case, prosecutors said he first made contact with Mr Ding in June 2012 at a cafe in Beirut.

Then the three Lebanese met Mr Ding in Singapore on April 2 "to discuss their preference for girls" one day before the match between the Singaporean and Indian teams, the prosecution said.

Ding subsequently arranged for the women to be sent to their hotel rooms in the early hours of April 3, the prosecution said.

Lawyer Gary Low, who acted for the three Lebanese, said in a mitigation plea that the "acceptance of the gratification ... did not result in any actual football match being fixed".

Sabbagh would be a star witness and his testimony would be crucial in helping the prosecution make its case against Ding, Low added.

Under Singapore's Prevention of Corruption Act, the three Lebanese officials had each faced a possible maximum fine of S$100,000 (Dh291,855) and five years in jail.