'Reject testimony' of absent witnesses

Ding, wearing sunglasses, and one of his lawyers Thong Chee Kun leaving the court.

SINGAPORE - The trial of alleged match-fixer Eric Ding Si Yang has turned into a duel over whether to allow statements from two linesmen who slept with prostitutes he supposedly provided.

Prosecutors said on Wednesday that "reasonable efforts" had been made to get the two Lebanese linesmen, who were deported in June after serving three months in jail, to return and testify.

As such, the four statements they gave to anti-graft officers should be admitted as evidence despite their absence, said Deputy Public Prosecutor Alan Loh, adding that such a move was "not unprecedented".

But the defence argued that the steps taken to bring back linesmen Abdallah Taleb, 37, and Ali Eid, 33, were "piecemeal" at best, going so far as to say that the case's lead investigating officer "in fact didn't even try".

During a relentless cross-examination, Corrupt Practices Investigation Bureau (CPIB) officer Jeffrey Tan admitted he did not verify the contact information provided by the linesmen before they left, nor was he aware if the numbers were for home or mobile.

"So even if they had given you a number in Timbuktu you wouldn't know?" asked defence counsel Hamidul Haq.

He also questioned why Arabic interpreters were not engaged when Mr Tan made the telephone calls - three to Mr Eid and four to Mr Taleb over two days. Nor was an e-mail message that was later sent to them translated.

Mr Haq said: "You had an indication that the person can't speak to you about this, and it is an important matter, and you didn't want to get hold of an interpreter to help you."

Mr Tan replied that he had been able to converse with them in "simple English".

Mr Haq countered Mr Tan's claim that "there was nothing in law to hold witnesses back", citing Section 284 of the Criminal Procedure Code, which allows applications to be made for witnesses to be detained in Singapore.

Mr Tan later backtracked, but said that a subpoena would still not have been possible - Ding's trial dates had not been set when the linesmen were deported.

Normally, statements are not admitted without witness testimony.

But citing the Evidence Act, DPP Loh said that statements can be admitted if witnesses are "outside Singapore and it is not practicable to secure their attendance".

The court then has discretion to determine the weight to be ascribed after considering other evidence, he added.

Furthermore, the DPP argued that there was "no reason for witnesses to make false statements", because they were recorded when they were first arrested and after they finished their sentences.

Their absence was also "not sinister", despite having assured officers that they would return to testify. Said the DPP: "It is understandable that they are refusing to return."

Businessman Ding, 31, faces three counts of bribing three Fifa-accredited officials to induce them into fixing a future match.

Referee Ali Sabbagh, 34, testified against him last month, while serving his six-month jail term. He has also been released for good behaviour and deported.

The trial continues on Thursday.

waltsim@sph.com.sg


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