SINGAPORE - Police on Thursday (April 20) raided the offices of the Football Association of Singapore (FAS) and three football clubs on Thursday (April 20) as part of a probe into the alleged misuse of funds at Tiong Bahru Football Club (TBFC).
Besides the FAS premise at the Jalan Besar Stadium, officers from the Commercial Affairs Department (CAD) also visited the clubhouses of TBFC in People’s Park Complex, Hougang United at Hougang Stadium and Woodlands Wellington at Prinsep Street.
Stacks of documents, packed in huge cardboard boxes, were carted away by officers at the various locations.
The raids lasted well into the wee hours of Friday, with investigators seen finally leaving FAS and Hougang Stadium at close to 1.30am.
In a statement issued to the media at 1.10am, the FAS said the police had visited its premises as part of their investigations, and that it would extend its fullest cooperation.
"As investigations are ongoing, it would be inappropriate to comment for us to comment further on the matter," the statement added.
The investigations were launched after national sports agency Sport Singapore, in a statement sent at 4.48pm on Thursday, said that it had lodged a police report on Wednesday night.
The statement said: "Following the media reports that Tiong Bahru Football Club had donated $500,000 to the Asean Football Federation (AFF) through the FAS (Football Association of Singapore), SportSG looked into the matter, and received further information on 18 April 2017.
"On the same day, SportSG also made further checks, which raised other serious questions about the use of Club funds.
"Based on legal advice, SportSG decided to file a police report on 19 April 2017 at about 7:50pm, in respect of suspected misuse of Tiong Bahru Football Club's funds and a purported attempt by a senior officer of the Club to delay and/or obstruct the completion of audits into the S.League sit-out clubs.
The Straits Times understands that the senior officer is TBFC chairman Bill Ng.
A police spokesman said on Thursday: "In response to media queries, the Police confirm that a police report has been lodged by Sport Singapore in relation to a football club.
"The Police will conduct a thorough investigation and will take appropriate action against any persons who have committed offences in Singapore. As investigations are ongoing, it is inappropriate to comment further at this point."
Mr Ng, in a statement issued by his spokesman on Thursday night, said he would be "fully cooperating with the authorities" on the matter.
"The full slate for the FAS elections for Team Game Changers has been confirmed for April 29, and the team is looking forward to it," he added.
Mr Ng, who is leading the Game Changers to contest the April 29 election, had revealed on April 13 that TBFC had donated $500,000 to the AFF in support of its football management system in 2014.
The donation by the National Football League (NFL) second-tier club, which is an amateur outfit, has dominated the pre-election talk so far.
SportSG had on Monday gave its first comments about the ongoing $500,000 donation saga.
It added that the external audit it had requested, after receiving feedback from the public about the proposed merger between Hougang and Woodlands, and how the latter's assets were being apportioned, was "taking longer than expected".
This was in reference to questions about management of former S-League club Woodlands Wellington's jackpot revenue. The audit was started in March 2016.
SportSG's latest statement on Thursday added: " On 3 April 2017, SportSG received a letter from a named individual alleging that a senior officer of a Football Club had instigated another Club to delay and/or obstruct the completion of audits until after the Football Association of Singapore (FAS) Elections, scheduled to be held on 29 April 2017, with false reasons.
"The said audits had been initiated in mid-2016 by the FAS in response to queries by SportSG.
Fans of Woodlands, who had lodged the complaints, had also questioned Ng's role in the merger, given that in 2011, part of his management team from Hougang helped to run debt-ridden Woodlands at the request of the S-League.
The merger, proposed in 2014, was eventually called off in 2016 with the FAS saying it was "not feasible for implementation".
The Straits Times reported on Thursday that TBFC's gross income for the financial year that ended in March last year was $36.8 million, eclipsing the FAS' budget of $35.8 million for the same period.
Going back to FY 2010/2011, TBFC notched annual income figures ranging from $11 million to $36 million.
In a statement sent to ST early in the morning of April 20 - before news of the police investigation broke - Ng, who is also chairman of S-League club Hougang United, said: "Approximately 80 per cent to 85 per cent is returned to the player (RTP), or paid to winners who play the jackpot machines.
"Normally, after payouts and taxes, the club only has about 7 per cent of gross margins as surplus left for its operations costs.
"Tiong Bahru FC would like to offer its accounting records for inspection by SportSG or any government agency if necessary.
"Should SportSG or any other government agency like to view these records, please contact us and we will arrange for it to be carried out."
TBFC's expenses were of a similar magnitude, resulting in profits of between $140,000 and $700,000 for each of the seven years, going by Tiong Bahru's annual returns, filed with the Registry of Societies. No breakdown of the expenses were available.
In FY 2009/2010, the club made $2.6 million but ended the year with a deficit of $19,000. In comparison, Tampines Rovers from the top-tier S-League, a recognised local football powerhouse, had an income of $3.6 million in the FY 2013/2014.
The drama has captured the attention of officials in local sport, most of whom hope the truth will be revealed soon.
They also expressed surprise at the amount of money in a club’s coffers.
Singapore Swimming Association president Lee Kok Choy said: “I hope it works out well for the FAS because football is a very important sport. Maybe it’s good that there is an election and these issues come out.
“That is a lot of money. Certainly we don’t see that in swimming.”
Singapore Table Tennis Association president Ellen Lee said: “The amount is staggering. I hope they have been properly managed but we should all stay calm and not speculate.
“We should also trust the wisdom of whoever is voting, trust that they will be able to see and decide for themselves.”
Facing Ng in the election is a side called Team LKT led by lawyer and former FAS vice-president Lim Kia Tong.
The election will be held at the Sports Hub next Saturday.