SINGAPORE, June 11 – A Lebanese football referee was jailed for six months Tuesday after pleading guilty to accepting free sex from a gambling-linked syndicate which offered the bribe as an inducement to rig a match in Singapore.
Ali Sabbagh, 34, was described by a district court judge as the most culpable of three Lebanese football match officials charged with corruption in the city-state.
Assistant referees Ali Eid, 33, and Abdallah Taleb, 37, were each given three-month jail sentences on Monday.
District judge Low Wee Ping said Sabbagh’s sentence had to be a “multiple” of his assistants because he was the one approached by the syndicate and the one who persuaded the two linesmen to accept the sexual bribe.
“The principle of parity of sentence does not apply to you. You have to be sentenced based on the more aggravating factors in your case,” the judge said.
The three men were arrested and charged on April 4 with corruption for accepting sexual favours in exchange for agreeing to fix an unspecified football match.
The judge said Sabbagh’s sentence took into account his guilty plea and the fact that his acceptance of the bribe did not result in any football match being rigged.
“There was no correlation between the sexual services the three of you received and the football match on the same day,” added the judge.
He was referring to the Asian Football Confederation Cup tie between Singapore-based Tampines Rovers and India’s East Bengal on April 3 that the three Lebanese referees were slated to officiate.
They were abruptly pulled out before the match and replaced.
Sabbagh, a sports teacher in his country, started sobbing as the judge read the judgement and later thanked him before he was led away in shackles by police officers.
His lawyer earlier told the court that Sabbagh would be the “star prosecution witness” in the case against Eric Ding Si Yang, the Singaporean businessman who allegedly supplied the prostitutes to the trio.
Ding, described by Singaporean media as a nightclub owner who drives an Aston Martin sports car, has also been charged with corruption and is currently out on bail awaiting trial.
State prosecutors said on Monday that Sabbagh was introduced to 31-year-old Ding — who used the alias “James” — in June 2012 at a cafe in Beirut, indicating a “clear international dimension” to the offences.
They said the Lebanese referee expressed his preference for “tall Asian girls” to Ding during one of their meetings.
Singapore has a long history of match-fixing, and syndicates from the wealthy Southeast Asian island have been blamed by European police for orchestrating a network responsible for rigging hundreds of games worldwide.
Defence lawyer Gary Low said the two assistant referees were scheduled to be deported back to Lebanon later on Tuesday, after they were released a day early for good behaviour and to take into account the time they spent in jail while waiting for their sentence.