Jailed football ref: I'm no match fixer

SINGAPORE - The football referee jailed for accepting sexual favours for match- fixing told a court on Tuesday that he never fixed a game in his life.

Ali Sabbagh, 34, said he had worked hard to become a top referee and would not jeopardise his career for "one-time sex".

He was testifying as a prosecution witness at the trial of Eric Ding Si Yang, the 31-year-old Singaporean accused of bribing Sabbagh and his two fellow Lebanese officials to fix a match by arranging for them to receive free sex from prostitutes.

Sabbagh told a district court that there had been no discussion to fix the game he and his two assistant referees were to officiate the day they were arrested.

He said that Ding was "merely taking care" of him by offering him the woman, adding: "In my mind, it was not illegal as I had done nothing wrong."

In his cross-examination by defence counsel Hamidul Haq, he also said that he had pleaded guilty because he had made a mistake of accepting the prostitute from "someone like Ding".

"I expected him to ask me to fix some future match in return but I would not do it," he said.

Sabbagh had also received US$2,000 (S$2,530) from Ding in last September after another referee and two linesmen had fixed a match in Iraq.

 

Click on thumbnail to view (Photos: ST, Facebook, AFP)

Sabbagh, the fourth official at that game, said the money was a "gift" because he had played no role in the match-fixing.

He said that the referee received US$14,000, while the two linesmen got $8,000 each.

Mr Haq told the court that Ding, who wrote for football magazines, also "did investigative journalism into match-fixing to gather information for a colleague working for a newspaper", but Sabbagh said he was not aware of this.

The men met in Beirut in June last year and Ding - who gave his name as "James" - claimed to run a business organising international friendly matches.

On Monday, the court heard that Ding had e-mailed the referee YouTube video clips showing how to falsely award penalties.

Then on April 3, the businessman allegedly arranged free sexual favours for the three Lebanese officials hours before they were due to officiate an Asian Football Confederation Cup match between Singapore's Tampines Rovers and India's East Bengal.

The three officials - Sabbagh, and linesmen Abdallah Taleb and Ali Eid - were arrested at 7am at Amara Hotel in Tanjong Pagar.

Sabbagh is currently serving a six-month jail sentence.

Taleb, 37, and Eid, 33, are also expected to testify at the trial, together with the three prostitutes.

Ding was a freelance football tipster for The New Paper from 2006 to last year. If convicted, he faces up to five years in jail, a fine of up to $100,000 or both.

The trial continues on Wednesday.


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