Top global match-fixer 'held in Singapore'

The notorious alleged mastermind of a global match-fixing ring was in custody in Singapore Thursday after a crackdown on one of the gangs linked to hundreds of rigged football games worldwide. A source told AFP that Singaporean businessman Dan Tan, full name Tan Seet Eng, was among 14 people held in raids this week. Police said the gang's "suspected leader" was arrested, without giving a name. His arrest appears to be a step forward in Singapore's fight against match-fixing syndicates linked to scandals in several countries including Italy, Germany and Hungary. Dan Tan was among 12 men and two women arrested. He and four others out of the group were denied bail. They are being held under a law, usually applied to criminal gangs, which allows for detention without trial. A statement from Singapore's police and anti-corruption bureau said those held in the 12-hour operation were suspected of "being part of an organised crime group involved with match-fixing activities". Interpol secretary general Ronald Noble, who has previously called for Dan Tan's arrest, described the operation as an "important step in cracking down on an international match-fixing syndicate by arresting the main suspects in the case, including the suspected mastermind". Chris Eaton, former head of security for football's world governing body FIFA, told AFP the arrests "are very significant operational steps against one particular Singapore gang for fixing matches and creating betting frauds". European policy agency Europol has linked criminal gangs in Singapore to revelations that hundreds of games worldwide, including World Cup qualifiers, were targeted by fixers. Dan Tan's name first came to prominence when arch Singaporean fixer Wilson Raj Perumal was arrested and jailed for rigging matches in Finland. Perumal said he was a double-crossed associate of Dan Tan. But the ethnic Chinese businessman, who appears chubby and round-faced in photographs, has protested his innocence. "Why I'm suddenly described as a match-fixer, I don't know. I'm innocent," he told Singapore's The New Paper in 2011, his only known media interview. Italian investigators have since issued a warrant for Dan Tan's arrest over the wide-ranging 'calcioscommesse', or football betting, scandal, which implicated a swathe of big names and clubs. 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. Eaton, a former Interpol officer and now the director of Sport Integrity at the Doha-based International Centre for Sport Security (ICSS), described Tan's detention as "a very significant arrest". "I think it is extremely important for the global efficacy of football and for, in fact, the eradication of the organised crime groups that are operating in this area," he said. Neil Humphreys, a Singapore-based football writer, said the wealthy Asian state had taken its time in making arrests "as authorities wanted to compile enough evidence to take down the entire syndicate". "The number of arrests suggests a major breakthrough in the hunt to shut down an entire match-fixing syndicate," he said. 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 Perumal was involved, despite being under police protection in Hungary. The New Paper printed a photograph of him partying in what looked like a nightclub with an unidentified woman. But despite the arrests in Australia and Singapore, the ICSS's Eaton said global football "remains in crisis" because of the match-fixing scourge. "Remember, this is only one gang, there are other international gangs operating," he said. "Sport, football particularly remains in crisis and it is important that we have global action... to match these national actions." 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 man behind that case, 31-year-old Singaporean businessman Eric Ding Si Yang, is continuing. Geza Fazekas, spokesman for Hungary's chief prosecutor's office, told AFP on Thursday that no confirmation of Dan Tan's arrest had been received. Noble has said that the illegal betting operations which drive match-fixing have revenues of billions of dollars a year, putting them financially on a par with multinational companies like Coca-Cola.