SINGAPORE- The alleged mastermind of a global football match-fixing syndicate is reportedly among 14 people arrested in a major crackdown in Singapore.
Police Thursday declined to confirm that Singaporean businessman Dan Tan, whose full name is Tan Seet Eng, was the “suspected leader” mentioned in their statement announcing the arrests.
Syndicates linked to Singapore had targeted hundreds of games worldwide, including those in the Champions League and World Cup qualifiers, European police agency Europol said in February.
A joint statement from Singapore police and anti-corruption bureau late Wednesday said 12 men and two women were nabbed in a 12-hour operation that ended in the early hours of Tuesday.
They were suspected of “being part of an organised crime group involved with match-fixing activities”, it said.
The “suspected leader” of the group and several others arrested were the subject of ongoing investigations in other jurisdictions, it added.
While nine of the suspects have been granted bail, five are being held under a section of the penal code which allows for up to a year’s detention without trial and is usually used in cases involving criminal gangs.
Interpol secretary general Ronald Noble has previously called on Singapore to arrest Tan, who is wanted by Italian authorities over the “calcioscommesse” betting scandal.
Singapore’s Straits Times and New Paper, whose investigative journalist Zaihan Mohamed Yusof has been closely following the case, both said Dan Tan was among those arrested but did not give sources.
In May Singapore police said Tan was “assisting investigators in Singapore”. In the same month he was charged in Hungary over the alleged manipulation of 32 games in three countries.
That development came after Europol in February said a five-country probe had identified 380 suspicious matches targeted by Singapore-based betting cartels, whose illegal activities stretched to players, referees and officials worldwide.
Tan has previously vigorously protested his innocence and said he was mystified about why he had been accused.
“Why I’m suddenly described as a match-fixer, I don’t know. I’m innocent,” he told The New Paper’s Zaihan in a rare 2011 interview.
“If there’s anything against me, I can take it to court and fight it.”
Interpol chief Noble on Wednesday welcomed the arrests as an “important step”.
“Singaporean authorities have taken an important step in cracking down on an international match-fixing syndicate by arresting the main suspects in the case, including the suspected mastermind,” he said in a statement.
“No person should doubt Singapore’s commitment to fighting match-fixing.”
Match-fixing has proved a chronic and growing blight on football and it hit the headlines again this week after six men were charged over a multi-million dollar scam in Australian state soccer.
Reports said convicted Singaporean match-fixer Wilson Raj Perumal, who claims to be a former associate of Dan Tan, was involved despite being under police protection in Hungary.
Experts say match-fixers who honed their skills in Singapore and neighbouring Malaysia have since spread to other leagues, providing a link between local gangs and Asian betting syndicates.
In the latest case within Singapore, three Lebanese referees were convicted in June of accepting sexual services in return for fixing games.
The trial of the alleged match-fixer in that case, 31-year-old Singaporean businessman Eric Ding Si Yang, is ongoing.