THANASEGAR S. Sinnaiah, once a striker for Kedah and Malaysia but now a convicted match-fixer, apologised to Singapore yesterday as he was jailed for 24 months.
He had pleaded guilty to conspiring with Singaporean Selvarajan Letchuman to give a bribe of not more than RM15,000 (S$5,600) to Malaysian part-time referee Shokri Nor to ensure that the Lions XII beat Sarawak FA in a 2012 Malaysian Super League match here.
The 40-year-old was also convicted of scheming with Selvarajan and Shokri to cheat Singapore Pools, and of failing to present his passport to an immigration officer for examination some time in July that year. While Thanasegar was out on $50,000 bail in 2012, he had left Singapore by hiding in the boot of a car.
All three were arrested before the match - which ended in a 3-0 win for Lions XII - kicked off. The case of Selvarajan, 52, is pending, while Shokri, 50, is still on the run after jumping bail in July 2012.
Thanasegar's lawyer, Mr Rakesh Vasu, said his client admits his wrongdoing tarnished Singapore's good name. "He sincerely apologises not only to the fans, but also to everyone concerned in the sport of football, for his irresponsible, despicable actions. He says, 'Singapore, I am truly sorry,'" he said.
Still, District Judge Siva Shanmugam made it clear that it was necessary to hand out a deterrent sentence, given how match-fixing can destroy the credibility of sport. "Sport builds and binds communities. It conveys ideals, values and norms to participants and fans alike, with youngsters looking up to sport personalities as role models. Match-fixing thus clearly amounts to deceit on multiple levels."
Football is especially vulnerable, given its worldwide popularity, the judge added.
"The transnational nature of the present offences also undermines our enforcement agencies' efforts to tackle the unfortunate perception that Singapore is a haven for such offences," he said.
He also highlighted the meticulous planning and premeditation on the part of Thanasegar and his accomplices, who had targeted a match in a season when a Singapore team had returned to the Malaysian league after an absence of 18 years.
In 1994, Thanasegar was one of Kedah's most highly paid young players, earning RM5,000 a month at the age of 20. The same year, he made his debut for Malaysia.
In a Straits Times interview then, he spoke about how he almost quit the game after his father's death in 1988 to support his four younger siblings. But his mother, a rubber-tapper, insisted that he stay in school and keep playing football.
Thanasegar could have been fined up to $100,000 and/or jailed for up to five years for corruption, and up to 10 years and fined for each charge of cheating. The Corrupt Practices Investigation Bureau made it clear yesterday that it will not hesitate to take action against any parties involved in match-fixing