Alleged global match-fixer freed in Singapore

Dan Tan, who was arrested in September 2013, won his freedom after the Court of Appeal ruled that his detention without trial under an anti-gangster law, did not meet the requirement that ‘a suspect poses a danger to public safety in Singapore’.

Tan Seet Eng, also known by the nickname of Dan Tan, front left, leaves the supreme court in Singapore Wednesday.   -  AP

A Singaporean businessman accused of rigging international football matches was freed by the city-state's top court on Wednesday in a surprise ruling seen as a blow to efforts to rid world sport of corruption.

Dan Tan, who was arrested in September 2013, won his freedom after the Court of Appeal ruled that his detention without trial under an anti-gangster law, did not meet the requirement that ‘a suspect poses a danger to public safety in Singapore’.

The ministry of home affairs, under heavy international pressure to crack down on Tan, had invoked special detention powers to arrest Tan due to the difficulty of finding enough evidence and witnesses to file criminal charges.

The court ruled that Tan's detention was "unlawful because it was beyond the scope of the power vested" in the home minister. It said that while match-fixing was "reprehensible and should not be condoned", the alleged acts "all took place beyond our shores" and no evidence was presented to show that potential witnesses were being intimidated.

Tan, a slight man with a shaved head, left the Supreme Court building with his lawyer after his release was processed and took a taxi without speaking to reporters. Chris Eaton, the Qatar-based executive director for sport integrity of the International Center for Sport Security, criticised the ruling and urged Singapore to update its laws.

"This is the sort of attitude that turned the world of sport into roundly criticising Singapore as hypocritical by not showing good global citizenship in the first place," he said.

"The government finally reacted and now just as Singapore is being congratulated for leadership in saving sport competition from corruption, its own courts have put the country back in the firing line."

Persistent allegations that affluent Singapore is a major hub for match-fixing have stained its reputation as one of the world's least corrupt nations. Two Singaporean match-fixers and three Lebanese referees have been jailed in the past two years by Singapore courts.

"Dan Tan Seet Eng wrought enormous damage in the global sport of football. Evidence of it abounds internationally. If your law doesn't fit a modern world, fix it now so it does, just like Dan Tan fixed football matches," Eaton said.

The three-judge appeals court is the highest judicial authority in Singapore. The Attorney-General's Chambers, which handles prosecutions of criminal cases, told AFP it "will study carefully the Court of Appeal's written grounds of decision before determining any course of action".

The 51-year-old Tan, also known as Tan Seet Eng, had filed a legal challenge against his detention nearly one year after his arrest. After the arrest, the then-Interpol chief Ronald Noble said that the Singapore-based ring was the world's "largest and most aggressive match-fixing syndicate, with tentacles reaching every continent".

Police say global match-fixing generates billions of dollars a year in revenues, fuelled in part by the popularity of online betting on match results and more minor game statistics.

Tan was among 14 people arrested in September 2013 in Singapore's biggest crackdown on match-fixing. In a book about Singapore's deep links with global match-fixing, local investigative journalist Zaihan Mohamed Yusof said authorities swooped on Tan's gang after uncovering plans to rig qualifiers for the 2014 World Cup in Brazil.

Experts have said that easy international transport, a passport accepted around the world and fluency in English and Mandarin have helped Singaporean fixers spread their influence abroad with the support of external investors, most believed to be from China.

Tan first came to prominence when fixer Wilson Raj Perumal, also a Singaporean, was arrested and jailed in Finland in 2011 for fixing top-tier games there.

Perumal, who has served his prison sentence and is now assisting match-fixing investigators in Hungary, had told prosecutors he was a double-crossed associate of Tan.