Lebanese ref says he was not asked to rig matches

SINGAPORE - A Lebanese referee expected to be a key prosecution witness in the match-fixing trial of a Singaporean businessman admitted Tuesday that the 31-year-old had never asked him to rig a game.

Eric Ding Si Yang, described in Singaporean media as a nightclub owner, has been charged with providing prostitutes for Ali Sabbagh and two other Lebanese officials in return for fixing matches.

Sabbagh, 34, was jailed last month for six months after pleading guilty to accepting the services of a prostitute as a bribe from a match-fixing syndicate and appeared in court in purple prison overalls.

But under cross-examination, Sabbagh said that while Ding had told him it was easy to procure the services of a prostitute in the city, he had never asked him to fix any matches.

"James did not ask me to fix the match. He told me about the girls and how it is easy to get them in Singapore," Sabbagh testified, using Ding's purported alias.

Sabbagh had testified on the first day of Ding's trial on Monday that he believed the businessman wanted him to rig unspecified AFC Champions League matches to be held in South Korea, Qatar and Iran.

But under questioning on Tuesday by Ding's lawyer, Sabbagh admitted Ding had never offered to procure him sexual services in exchange for future match-fixing.

"At no time did he say he would provide girls, and you would do something back for him?" lawyer Hamidul Haq asked Sabbagh, who immediately responded "No".

Under further pressure, a visibly agitated Sabbagh shot back: "No! I am speaking the truth."

Ding is accused of providing Sabbagh, 34, and two other Lebanese officials with women before a match in Singapore in April that they were supposed to officiate. They were pulled before the game and put under investigation.

Assistant referees Ali Eid and Abdallah Taleb were also jailed and have since been released and deported.

Prosecutors have charged Ding with "corruptly giving gratification to three football officials as an inducement to fix football matches that they would officiate in the future".

Ding faces a maximum prison term of five years and a fine of up to $100,000 for each count of corruption. He denies the charges.