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Court sets tougher penalties for match-fixing

SINGAPORE — In increasing match-fixer Eric Ding Si Yang’s jail term from three years to five years yesterday, a High Court also laid down stiffer sentencing benchmarks for such criminals.

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SINGAPORE — In increasing match-fixer Eric Ding Si Yang’s jail term from three years to five years yesterday, a High Court also laid down stiffer sentencing benchmarks for such criminals.

Given the increasing prevalence of match-fixing, a “sharp upward recalibration is timely and merited”, said Justice Chan Seng Onn. The judge ruled that three-and-a-half years behind bars per charge is the starting point for seasoned fixers of matches at the FIFA World Cup level who were caught for the first time, are part of organised syndicates and have claimed trial. This indicates the importance of a World Cup game, which will often be proportionate to the offender’s culpability and harm caused.

Similar offenders at the S-League level face 1.5 years in jail per charge, given how the local league is “many notches below the FIFA World Cup in all respects”, the judge wrote in a 68-page judgment issued yesterday. Until now, match-fixers typically faced up to 18 months’ jail per charge.

“...The sentencing norms must be re-assessed in light of the increased lucrativeness and anonymity of match-fixing offences as well as the increased potential for reputational harm to Singapore,” he added.

Match-fixing is a form of betting fraud and an international problem, with illegal betting said to be worth hundreds of billions of euros a year, Justice Chan noted.

Prosecutors had argued that Singapore has in recent years acquired “an insalubrious reputation as a haven for match-fixers”. An investigation report led by Europol and several European countries found that 150 out of 380 attempts at rigging games from July 2011 to January last year were run out of Singapore, with up to €100,000 (S$153,400) of bribes paid per match.

But the judge stressed that the sentencing guideline framework should not be applied blindly. It is for match-fixers like Ding, and not match officials like the three Lebanese the businessman had bribed with prostitutes. The three were arrested before they could officiate an Asian Football Confederation Champions League match scheduled in April 2013.

“There are numerous professional football competitions around the world and I make no attempt to determine where they all stand in relation to each other. It will be for the sentencing judge to determine where on the spectrum between the S-League and the World Cup that the game the offender has fixed actually falls,” the judge said.

Turning to Ding, Justice Chan found the three-year sentence earlier meted out to be manifestly inadequate. The trial judge was too cautious in finding Ding to be merely a part of an organised group, he said.

Ding was no mere errand boy, but the frontman of at least a part of a syndicate with extensive sophistication, size and geographical reach.

Applying his new sentencing guidelines to Ding’s case is merited if specific or general deterrence is needed to check the rise of particular types of offences, he said. “A robust sentence is needed to check the rise of the scourge of match-fixing and to repair the reputational damage that has been caused to Singapore by the activities of match-fixers like Ding,” Justice Chan said.

Ding, 33, was convicted of three counts of corruptly giving gratification to three Lebanese match officials and sentenced last July. His sentence per charge was increased from 18 months to 30 months, with two sentences running consecutively.

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