Low Hong Teck, an electronics salesman who is picking out games on the screen, says he bets on matches occasionally, never risking more than 20 to 30 Singapore dollars ($16 to $24). “It’s just for fun,” he says.
Yet the fun is being drained from the sport as Singapore finds itself in an uncomfortable global spotlight in a sprawling match-fixing scandal.
An international police probe, spanning 13 European countries and carried out over almost two years, has exposed the tiny Asian city-state as the center of a match-fixing business with tentacles reaching into locker rooms across the globe.
Last week, Europol, the European Union’s law enforcement agency, revealed that the attempted or successful manipulation of more than 380 professional matches over the past five years had been orchestrated by a Singapore-based network.
The bribing of officials and players “formed part of a sophisticated organized crime operation,” including a cartel allegedly run from Singapore by Dan Tan Seet Eng, a Singaporean who served time in jail in the 1990s for being an illegal bookmaker.
Singapore, a successful Asian financial center known for having one of the lowest crime rates in the world, hardly seems an obvious breeding ground for global match-fixing.
It legalized gambling on local matches in 1999 and on international matches played locally in 2002.
But the Europol investigation has lifted the lid on a shady underworld of match-fixers, financing syndicates and even mafia-style violence that operates alongside legal activity.
That investigation grew out of local cases in a half-dozen countries that national police gradually recognized were all linked through the same betting network.
In Bochum, Germany, where an investigation beginning in 2009 led to 14 convictions, prosecutors initially traced money flows to Singapore via an Asian bookmaker in Britain.
In Cremona, Italy, prosecutors who charged 20 suspects with match-fixing last year found they were linked to some of the same Singapore figures, including Tan and an alleged associate, Wilson Raj Perumal.
Perumal was arrested while trying to fix a match in Finland in 2011, and spent a year in a Finnish jail. He is now in protective custody in Hungary, where he is providing evidence to investigators.
Tracing the flows of cash shows that the bribes, the betting, and the profits are all coordinated and distributed through Singapore, according to Mitja Jager, a Slovenian police inspector. “At the highest level, it all goes back to Singapore,” he said last week.