Businessman acquitted of six match-fixing charges

Mr Rajendar Prasad Rai (left) was alleged to have conspired with his nephew, Mr Shree Manish Kalra, to fix six match results played in three different destinations in Europe in 2013 and 2014.
Mr Rajendar Prasad Rai (left) was alleged to have conspired with his nephew, Mr Shree Manish Kalra, to fix six match results played in three different destinations in Europe in 2013 and 2014.ST FILE PHOTO

Judge finds reasonable doubt in evidence of witness; notes no probes in any of the games

A district judge acquitted businessman Rajendar Prasad Rai of six match-fixing charges, finding reasonable doubt in the evidence of central witness Shree Manish Kalra that made any conviction unsafe.

Mr Rajendar, 43, was alleged to have conspired with his nephew, Mr Manish, then 22, to fix six match results played in three different destinations in Europe in 2013 and 2014.

But the trial had centred on Mr Manish's evidence. Apart from that, there was no independent and objective evidence that the six matches were indeed fixed, said District Judge Crystal Ong in oral grounds on Wednesday.

She noted the "prosecution has painted a picture of the accused as a match fixer" and, to convince the court, they relied on various statements Mr Manish had made and pointed to evidence that supported what he said.

"While there is some objective evidence which corroborates what he said in the statements, there is also objective evidence which contradicts what he said," added Judge Ong.

In these friendly matches staged abroad, Mr Rajendar and Mr Manish were said to have fixed the results through picking specific match officials for the games.

Judge Ong noted there were no probes conducted into any of these six matches by Fifa, Uefa or any other government or football authority, and neither was any action taken against parties concerned nor was anyone called as witnesses.

The trial, which started in the middle of last year and lasted over 30 days, instead dwelt on Mr Manish.

Mr Manish's statements to the Corrupt Practices Investigation Bureau (CPIB) in 2015 implicated Mr Rajendar and himself but he retracted the statements in court, claiming he had lied to "fix" Mr Rajendar.

Deputy Public Prosecutors Navin Naidu and Stacey Fernandez then treated Mr Manish as a hostile witness, cross-examined him and urged the court to reject his trial evidence and accept his statements where he had incriminated not just the accused but himself as well.

But defending Senior Counsel N. Sreenivasan and lawyer Jason Lim called for the court to drop his CPIB statements which were inconsistent with independent evidence.

The judge assessed Mr Manish, a law graduate, to be "very clever, very eloquent, extremely street-smart and extremely good at thinking on his feet".

Noting Mr Manish was the one "driving the contents of the statements" he made to CPIB, the judge accepted he had "personal knowledge" of these matches, which meant they were "well-suited" to support a "credible account" if he sought to incriminate Mr Rajendar.

Judge Ong noted Mr Manish was given a discharge not amounting to acquittal (DNAQ) two months after he sought to retract his statements in October 2015.

"If the prosecution were not impressed by Manish's reasons for wanting to retract his statements pre-trial, and still believed that the statements were true and accurate, then I am puzzled by the decision to grant him a DNAQ," said Judge Ong.

She likened the various pieces of objective evidence, which prosecutors produced to support his statements, to joining "not many dots" and that the distance between each dot was "rather substantial".

"It is not as if there was a preponderance of objective evidence such that there is left no reasonable doubt as to how these dots all joined up and pointed to the accused being guilty of match-fixing, as Manish had claimed in the statements," said Judge Ong.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on July 15, 2017, with the headline 'Businessman acquitted of six match-fixing charges'. Print Edition | Subscribe