It is one of the world’s smallest and wealthiest states, but a deep gambling culture coupled with sheer entrepreneurial zeal has made Singapore a big player in global match-fixing, experts say.
The arrests of two Singaporean men over a scandal in Britain has again thrown the spotlight on the Southeast Asian city-state, known for its cleanliness, strict laws and high number of millionaires.
Despite these advantages, Singapore is continually linked to match-rigging, testament to a network that is proving hard to eradicate even when leading members are under arrest or police protection.
Chann Sankaran, 33, and Krishna Sanjey Ganeshan, 43, were taken in by British police this month after a videotape sting and accused of rigging lower-tier English games.
The arrests come just months after Singapore launched its biggest crackdown on match-fixers and locked up leading suspects, including purported mastermind Dan Tan — full name Tan Seet Eng.
Singapore’s Wilson Raj Perumal, a notorious fixer who was jailed in Finland and is now under police protection in Hungary, denied involvement in the English scam after a suspect called him his “boss.”
Reports said Perumal, who said he used to work with Dan Tan and fixed games around the world, was also named by investigators probing a multimillion-dollar soccer match-fixing ring in Australia.
The latest developments are part of a chain of events set in motion more than 20 years ago, when Perumal started fixing games in Singapore before moving abroad to escape the attentions of local police.
“These Singaporean criminals recognized that there was money to be made in match-fixing at the low levels and later translated this national skill, if I could say that, to the global platform,” said Chris Eaton, director of the Doha-based International Centre for Sport Security.
Eaton, a former Interpol officer and ex-head of security at FIFA, calls Singapore the “epicenter of gambling in Southeast Asia.”
Easy international transport, a passport accepted around the world and fluency in English and Mandarin have helped Singaporean fixers spread their influence abroad with the support of external investors, most believed to be from China.
According to writer Neil Humphreys, author of the soccer-based novel Match Fixer, Singapore’s fixation with gambling makes game-rigging hard to bring under control.
The island off the southern tip of peninsular Malaysia has a popular horse racing track and its two casinos are among the hottest in the world, raking in a combined total of US$5.85 billion last year.
The Singapore Totalisator Board, which manages the state’s two legal soccer betting and lottery companies, saw revenues of nearly US$800 million in the year to March, from a total population of just 5.4 million. There are also dozens of illegal soccer betting outfits.
Gambling is so entrenched that to keep them away from the casinos, the Singaporean government has levied an US$80 charge on nationals to get through the doors. When there is a road accident, locals take note of the cars’ license plates to use them in a four-digit lottery, thinking the numbers have now used up their bad luck and will bring good fortune to the punter.
“No more burying our heads in the sand; Singapore is a nation addicted to gambling, as is much of the region,” Humphreys said. “I no longer tell people that I have written a book on match-fixing or that I regularly write about football, When I did in the past, the initial response was — without fail — to ask for betting tips on upcoming games. That response is uniquely Singaporean.”
Humphreys added that given its long association, match-fixing scandals have little “shock factor” in the city-state, meaning that there is scant public pressure for action.
Interpol said that a “united and global” effort was needed to fight a crime which cuts across borders.
“Each time arrests in connection with match-fixing are made anywhere in the world it makes headline news, but this is probably because they are still too rare an occurrence,” an Interpol spokeswoman told reporters.
“I don’t see how government regulation and syndicate busts can change a culture where sporting events, festive occasions, family gatherings are often built around the betting shop, a pack of cards or a mahjong table,” Humphreys said.
No charges have been filed yet against Dan Tan.