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Detention of alleged match-fixing kingpin ‘unlawful’

SINGAPORE — Wanted by Italian and Hungarian authorities, the alleged mastermind of a global match-fixing syndicate walked out of court today (Nov 25) a free man, after a panel of judges — including Singapore’s Chief Justice — ruled that his detention under the Criminal Law (Temporary Provisions) Act (CLTPA) was unlawful and the Home Affairs Minister had overstepped his powers in locking Tan up without trial.

Dan Tan (centre) leaving the Supreme Court. He was released after a two-year detention under the CLTPA. He had challenged his continued detention and succeeded at his second attempt. Photo: Ernest Chua

Dan Tan (centre) leaving the Supreme Court. He was released after a two-year detention under the CLTPA. He had challenged his continued detention and succeeded at his second attempt. Photo: Ernest Chua

Singapore

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SINGAPORE — Wanted by Italian and Hungarian authorities, the alleged mastermind of a global match-fixing syndicate walked out of court today (Nov 25) a free man, after a panel of judges — including Singapore’s Chief Justice — ruled that his detention under the Criminal Law (Temporary Provisions) Act (CLTPA) was unlawful and the Home Affairs Minister had overstepped his powers in locking Tan up without trial. 

Dubbed by Interpol as “the leader of the world’s most notorious match-fixing syndicate”, Tan Seet Eng, also known as Dan Tan, was arrested in 2013, along with 13 other suspects. He has been detained under the CLTPA since October 2013. 

The case had caught the attention of the international media, and it was brought up in November 2013 during a Parliamentary debate here on the extension of the CLTPA for another five years. The Act was extended unopposed by Parliament. Nevertheless, some Members of Parliament questioned if match-fixing was a sufficiently serious crime for the CLTPA to be invoked.
 
Tan, represented by lawyers Mr Hamidul Haq and Mr Thong Chee Kun, had challenged his continued detention and succeeded at his second attempt. Chief Justice Sundaresh Menon, Judge of Appeal Chao Hick Tin and Judge of Appeal Andrew Phang Boon Leong heard the case.  

Delivering the 80-page judgment, CJ Menon said the detention was “beyond the scope of the power vested in the Minister, which was to detain persons in the circumstances where activities of a sufficiently serious criminal nature threatened to or did undermine public safety, peace or good order in Singapore”.

The Act allows the Minister to detain suspected criminals without trial for public safety, peace and good order, and has been invoked to put away hardened gangsters, loan sharks and murderers. The detention orders are up to a year, and have to be reviewed annually.

CJ Menon said the “entire raison d’être” of the CLTPA is to clamp down on activities threatening public safety, peace and order in Singapore, although the activities need not occur here. But the grounds for Tan’s detention “set out few connections with Singapore”, he added. 

The grounds for detention stated that Mr Tan had recruited runners and agents over a 13-month period which ended almost two-and-a-half years before the detention order was issued. He also allegedly headed a match-fixing syndicate involved in financing or directing the global rigging of games, or both, from Singapore. These facts, however, pointed towards corrupt practices at best, said the Chief Justice.

“While, as we have noted, these acts are reprehensible and should not be condoned, there is nothing to suggest whether (or how) these activities could be thought to have a bearing on the public safety, peace and good order within Singapore. The matches fixed, whether or not successfully, all took place beyond our shores,” he said.

He added: “There is nothing in the grounds to indicate that (Tan) was working with overseas criminal syndicates or to suggest that such activities are likely to take root in Singapore by reason of anything the (Tan) has done or threatens to do. Nor is there anything to suggest that witnesses are being intimidated, resulting in their unwillingness to testify against (Tan).”

The apex court was willing to accept that Mr Tan did take part in criminal activities, and that heading a match-fixing syndicate could entail activities “of a sufficiently serious criminal nature”, said CJ Menon. 

Alluding to then-Second Minister for Home Affairs S Iswaran’s remarks during the 2013 Parliamentary debate, CJ Menon however said that there was no indication that the businessman had engaged in “any activities of so serious a nature as those alluded to by Mr Iswaran, that brought his actions within the contemplated scope or remit of the CLTPA”. 

Mr Iswaran had said in Parliament that the “underlying nature of these match-fixing activities was no different to those of other criminal activities that have necessitated the use of the Act”. He had added: “Such criminal activities are often carried out by organised syndicates with complex and layered structures, and extensive networks which make full use of technology. Also, where cross-border illegal activities are involved, the difficulties of securing witnesses who are willing to cooperate and testify in open court are amplified.” 

An Attorney General’s Chambers spokesman said it will “study carefully the Court of Appeal’s written grounds of decision before determining any course of action”.

Responding to the court’s decision, the Ministry of Home Affairs (MHA) said that its law enforcement agencies began investigating Tan’s case in 2011, when he was repeatedly cited in Italian court papers for his involvement in transnational criminal activities, in the form of match-fixing. 

Referring to INTERPOL’s description of Tan as the mastermind of a match-fixing ring that had “tentacles reaching every continent”, MHA said: “Investigations indicated that Tan had an extensive network of people under his control — many of whom were recruited in, and directed out of Singapore.”

The ministry added that it will “study the judgment carefully and assess further steps”.

Lawyers whom TODAY spoke to said they agreed with the judgment, which provided greater clarity on the scope of the CLTPA. “Until now, (the Act) was treated like a silver bullet. When they don’t find enough evidence, or the evidence doesn’t stand in court, they use the Act,” said Mr Amolat Singh, adding that match-fixing did not have the same effect on public order as other offences such as secret society activities. 

Agreeing, Mr Edmond Pereira felt that at best, match-fixing activities tarnished the international image of the Republic. “It’s not grounds to detain someone,” he said. He noted that Tan could still be extradited to face charges in other countries. In May 2013, Mr Tan was charged in absentia by a Hungarian court for allegedly rigging matches there. 

Stepping out of court this afternoon, Mr Tan looked to have lost considerable weight during detention. Clad in a black polo T-shirt and navy track pants, he left in a taxi with his lawyers. “My client is very relieved, following the just outcome of the case,” said Mr Thong.

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