By Patrick Johnston
SINGAPORE (Reuters) - Law enforcement agency Interpol lauded the work of Singapore authorities on Monday for arresting the 'mastermind' of the world's largest soccer match-fixing syndicate thought to be worth millions of dollars.
Interpol secretary general Ron Noble did not reveal the identity of the ringleader arrested by Singapore's Criminal Investigation Department (CID) and the Corrupt Practices Investigation Bureau (CPIB) last Tuesday but it is believed to be Singaporean Tan Seet Eng.
Italian prosecutors have accused Tan, also known as Dan Tan, of heading an organisation to fix soccer matches worldwide and Italian police issued an arrest warrant for him earlier this year.
"I'm confident that Singapore law enforcement authorities have arrested the mastermind and leader of the world's most notorious match-fixing syndicate," Noble told reporters in Singapore.
"It is significant because this syndicate is considered the worlds largest and most aggressive match-fixing syndicate with tentacles reaching every continent and the mastermind was someone many believed was untouchable."
The 'mastermind' was one of 14 people arrested, 12 men and two women, and investigated under the Prevention of Corruption Act on suspicion of being part of an organised crime group involved with match-fixing.
On Monday, the ministry of Home Affairs said nine of the 14 had been released on bail while the other five were still being questioned.
The five, who could not be named, can be held for a maximum of 16 days from arrest, according to section 44 of the Criminal law (Temporary Provisions) Act.
European police shone a spotlight on Southeast Asia in February when they announced a Singapore-based syndicate had directed match-fixing for at least 380 soccer games in Europe alone, making at least eight million euros.
A further 300 suspicious matches were identified in Africa, Asia and Latin America including qualifying games for the World Cup and European Championships, and the Champions League for top European club sides.
Singapore was criticised for failing to hand over Tan to Italian prosecutors earlier this year but the Southeast Asian citystate does not hold an extradition treaty with Italy.
Noble defended Singapore, which jailed three Lebanese match officials for attempting to fix a regional match in June, and cited the need for lengthy communications and translations for the delay.
"I was very, very proud of Singapore because for so many years Singapore has been criticised for not investigating when in fact the evidence wasn't sure with Singapore because of the ongoing criminal investigations in Europe," he said.
"I was really proud that Singapore conducted this investigation on its soil, using its own laws and resources and we were able to bring some of the people to justice."
Last week's arrests came a day after another match-fixing scandal hit the world's most popular sport, with Australian police smashing a multi-million dollar fixing ring centred on a second tier domestic league.
Australian police charged six men and said the operation, which embroiled the head coach and a number of players at Victoria Premier League team Southern Stars, had links with syndicates in Malaysia and Hungary.
Elsewhere, El Salvador banned 14 internationals for life for match-fixing on Saturday, including some of their best known and most experienced players.
"There isn't a country or region that is immune form it," Noble said.
"You are seeing more and more investigations being broken around the world and I believe what we are going to do is we are going to find out that other people talked about this syndicate being important, was important, we will be taking on other syndicates around the world.
"Syndicates that are doing business to the tune of $1 or 2 billion a year in terms of illegal betting and or match-fixing."
Noble, who was in Singapore to check on progress of the building of the Interpol Global Complex for Innovation in Singapore which will be completed next year, said the work of smashing these multi-million dollar syndicates was never ending.
"I believe that fighting match-fixing and corruption in sports is a life long battle and just because you don't see it doesn't mean it isn't going on," he said.
"It is the kind of crime that if you don't investigate it all of the time it will just blow up in your face and it is never going to go away."
(Editing by John O'Brien)