After being detained for two years without trial, alleged match-fixing mastermind Dan Tan Seet Eng walked out of court yesterday a free man hours after the Court of Appeal declared his detention unlawful.
Given Tan's alleged links to football corruption across Europe, the Middle East and Africa, the decision was seen by some as a blow against efforts to fight matchfixing. But Chief Justice Sundaresh Menon made it clear that as bad as Tan's alleged crimes were, the 51-year-old did not pose a danger to public safety in Singapore to warrant being held under the Criminal Law (Temporary Provisions) Act.
"While... these acts are reprehensible and should not be condoned, there is nothing to suggest whether or how these activities could be thought to have a bearing on the public safety, peace and good order," CJ Menon said as he delivered the decision of a three-judge court.
"The matches fixed, whether or not successfully, all took place beyond our shores," he added.
A shaven-headed and gaunt-looking Tan, who was arrested along with 13 others in September 2013 and began his detention the next month, showed no elation as the judges ordered his release.
Tan said little after his release. His lawyers dealt with the paperwork needed for his release and even made a trip to a nearby mall to buy a new set of clothes for him... Asked what Tan's plans were, Mr Haq said Tan wanted to "connect back" with his three sons.
The Ministry of Home Affairs (MHA) said it will study the judgment carefully before deciding on its next move.
It explained that it began investigating Tan in 2011, when he was repeatedly cited in Italian court papers for his involvement in match-fixing.
He was accused by MHA of fixing matches in Egypt, South Africa, Nigeria, Turkey and Trinidad and Tobago. The attempts took place in 2010 and 2011. He was also accused of recruiting runners in Singapore and controlling overseas match-fixing agents and runners from here between 2009 and September 2013.
Tan's arrest in 2013 had been lauded by Interpol as a major blow against match-fixing. Yesterday, the former security chief at world football body Fifa, Mr Chris Eaton, made clear his unhappiness with the court's decision to free Tan.
He had previously fingered Tan as the mastermind of a group with hands in nearly every European football league. In an e-mailed reply to The Straits Times yesterday, the Australian, now an executive director at the International Centre for Sport Security, stood by his assertion. He said Tan had "wrought enormous damage in the global sport of football... Evidence of it abounds internationally".
Italian prosecutor Roberto Di Martino, who led the inquiry into international match-fixing that has resulted in 104 indictments so far, told The New York Times that an international arrest warrant that he made for Tan, who has also been charged in Hungary, still stands.
"If he comes to Italy he'll be arrested," he said. "Actually, he'll probably be arrested if he goes anywhere in Europe."
Tan said little after his release. His lawyers dealt with the paperwork needed for his release and even made a trip to a nearby mall to buy a new set of clothes for him.
At 3.35pm, he emerged stone-faced in the lobby, went to the building's cafe and sat with a can of Coca-Cola, and made several phone calls. His lawyer Hamidul Haq said it was Tan's first can of soda after his arrest.
Some 40 minutes later, Tan finally walked out of the courthouse with his lawyers. Asked what Tan's plans were, Mr Haq said Tan wanted to "connect back" with his three sons.
•Additional reporting by Sanjay Nair