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Andrew Dampf / Associated Press, Published February 18 2013

Police track, suspect elusive figure in soccer corruption

ROME – At 5:45 a.m. on Nov. 4, 2011, when early risers would have been sipping espressos and buttering toast, a man dressed in black disembarked at Milan’s Malpensa Airport after a 13-hour trip from Asia aboard a Singapore Airlines flight.

Italian court documents show he stayed in the country just 6 hours and 30 minutes, never left the airport, and then boarded a return flight to Singapore.

Why such a quick hop across the globe?

Italian authorities believe it was to deliver bribe money. They allege the suspected courier, who was under surveillance, delivered information and cash on behalf of a crime syndicate that fixes soccer matches.

Italy, a four-time World Cup-winning football power, has become so blighted by match-fixing that Premier Mario Monti has even suggested halting the professional game for two to three years to clean it up.

Italian prosecutors investigating dozens of league and cup games they say were fixed and have followed a trail back to a figure who is thought to be in Singapore. In documents laying out their findings, prosecutors alleged that

48-year-old Tan Seet Eng is the boss of a crime syndicate that allegedly made millions betting on rigged Italian games between 2008 and late 2011, through bribing players, referees and club officials.

Italian authorities have issued an arrest warrant for Tan and list him as their No. 1 suspect, but they have been unable to take him into custody.

“Tan Seet Eng, nicknamed Dan, surfaces in all the European investigations examined, including the Italian one, so therefore he constitutes a common thread that links each criminal gang together,” prosecutors stated in a 340-page court document detailing their investigation, which has been leaked to Italian news media. “He directs the aforementioned criminal gang.”

Italian authorities have about 150 people under investigation, including Tan, but have yet to indict any of them, prosecutor Roberto Di Martino told The Associated Press last month. Italian arrest warrants cannot be served on Tan while he is in Asia.

Di Martino, who is leading the investigation from Cremona in northern Italy, said Tan will “almost certainly” go on trial in Italy, but likely in absentia. Italy has no extradition treaty with Singapore.

“At first we actually thought they could be brought to Italy, but that calculation was wrong,” Di Martino said. “If Tan Seet Eng goes somewhere else, he could be extradited, as long as there’s an extradition treaty with that country.”

In Singapore, police spokeswoman Chu Guat Chiew said authorities there are reviewing the information submitted by the Italians before deciding what to do, adding: “So far, Dan Tan Seet Eng has not been charged with any offence in Singapore.”

Police have questioned dozens of people in Italy, searched the homes of players and coaches, and descended on the Italian national squad’s training camp early one morning in May 2012. But Di Martino said the investigation has turned up only limited information about Tan.

“We don’t know much about him. We don’t know if he’s a legitimate businessman involved in illegal activity, or if he’s involved in money laundering,” Di Martino said. “We’re only interested up until a certain point; then it’s Singapore’s problem.”

The AP could not contact Tan in Singapore. Five phone numbers identified as his by Italian prosecutors were disconnected. No one answered the door at an apartment the Italians listed as his address. Mail and flyers stuffed under the door and in the door frame suggested no one had been there for a while.

The New Paper in Singapore reported that it spoke to Tan in 2011.

“Why I’m suddenly described as a match-fixer I don’t know. I’m innocent,” it quoted him as saying. It quoted Tan as saying he was briefly involved in a business venture that Wilson Raj Peruma, who has been convicted of match-fixing in Finland, started, “but I took my name off after I smelled something fishy.”

“Maybe that’s why he had named me to investigators,” he continued. “Anybody involved with Wilson gets bad luck. He has a criminal record. It’s not good for Singaporeans to do business with him.”