SINGAPORE Three Lebanese referees pleaded not guilty to the charge they accepted sexual bribes in return for fixing a regional football match but had their request for bail rejected by a Singapore judge on Wednesday.
Kamala Ponnampalam dismissed the claims, citing a 2012 match-fixing case where a Malaysian referee absconded Singapore despite his passport being impounded.
Deputy Public Prosecutor Christopher Ong said prosecutors had made a written submission to the judge requesting bail be denied, arguing the Lebanese trio could be involved in an international match-fixing syndicate.
FIFA-recognised referee Ali Sabbagh and assistants Ali Eid and Abdallah Taleb will next appear in court on April 18.
Ong also said the three would continue to be held in separate cells as the judge had not changed her initial order.
On Tuesday, Singapore businessman Eric Ding Si Yang, who once worked for the local New Paper tabloid as a football tipster, was released on S$150,000 ($121,000) bail after he pleaded not guilty to bribing the trio with prostitutes.
The prosecution had also opposed bail for Ding, citing his suspected syndicate links as well as the risk he could interfere with the judicial process if out on bail.
"In particular, the prosecution alleges that the accused (Ding) had first contacted one of the three Lebanese co-accused persons, Ali Sabbagh, sometime in mid-2012, in Beirut, and that the seeds for the present offences were sown when all three Lebanese co-accused persons were still in their home country," the prosecution had said in a submission seen by Reuters.
"There is thus a clear international dimension to the accused's alleged offences."
The next hearing for Ding will also take place on April 18.
The three officials had arrived in Singapore last week to take charge of the AFC Cup match between local side Tampines Rovers and East Bengal of India, but were hastily replaced hours before kick-off by the Asian Football Confederation (AFC).
The officials face a maximum fine of S$100,000 and a five-year prison term if found guilty. Ding faces the same punishment on each of the three charges he faces.
The case follows the European anti-crime agency, Europol, saying in February that hundreds of football matches had been fixed in a global betting scam run from Singapore.
It identified 680 suspicious matches, including World Cup qualifiers and European Champions League ties, with Italian prosecutors accusing Singapore national, Tan Seet Eng also known as Dan Tan, of heading an organisation to fix matches.
Later that month, the Lebanese Football Association punished 24 players for their involvement in rigging international and regional matches. That included lifetime bans for internationals Ramez Dayoub and Mahmoud El-Ali.
(Writing by Patrick Johnston; Editing by John O'Brien)
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