Controversy escalates as Singapore's football body gears up for its inaugural election next Saturday, with claim and counterclaim exchanged yesterday over a $500,000 donation.
It started just before 8pm when Mr Winston Lee, the general secretary of the Football Association of Singapore (FAS), released copies of a letter, cheques and payment vouchers, to make the case that Mr Bill Ng, one of the two main contenders in the election, knew about and signed off on donating $500,000 to the Asian Football Federation to help pay for a sports management system, contrary to Mr Ng's earlier claims.
Mr Ng's statements are "all patently false", said Mr Lee, and they are "intended to insinuate financial impropriety within FAS" and to damage his credibility and that of the FAS. The top FAS administrator called on Mr Ng to "wholly and unconditionally apologise for his statements".
Barely three hours later, Mr Ng countered Mr Lee's claims by claiming that he merely followed Mr Lee's instructions and copied the contents of an e-mail from Mr Lee onto the letterhead of Tiong Bahru Football Club, which Mr Ng ran.
Mr Ng reiterated that he had never dealt with former FAS president Zainudin Nordin on the matter and that all discussions on the donation had been with Mr Lee.
TIMELINE OF EVENTS
APRIL 13: At the unveiling of the Game Changers' election manifesto, presidential hopeful Bill Ng reveals he has made donations totalling $850,000 to the Football Association of Singapore (FAS).
He claims that he knows little about how the money has been used and urges the media to query FAS general secretary Winston Lee.
APRIL 14: In the wee hours, Mr Lee issues a statement, calling Mr Ng's insinuations "baseless and untrue". Mr Lee explains that $500,000 was donated by National Football League club Tiong Bahru FC, of which Mr Ng is the chairman, towards developing the Asean Football Federation's (AFF) Football Management System. That same day, the AFF issues a statement that thanks a Singapore NFL club for the donation.
APRIL 15: An FAS spokesman reveals that it was former president Zainudin Nordin who had asked Mr Ng to make donations to the AFF for the system.
APRIL 16: National sports agency Sport Singapore calls on the new FAS council, which will be elected on April 29, to "provide a complete and satisfactory report on the management of these matters".
APRIL 17: The Game Changers sends a statement saying that "when Bill Ng agreed to Winston's request for a donation, it was strictly on the basis that the money was to be used to benefit Singapore football, especially our local clubs".
The team also insists that "the former president Mr Zainudin Nordin did not approach Mr Bill Ng over the AFF Football Management System at any time".
APRIL 18: The AFF publishes a statement on its website at noon saying that it was the FAS which had donated the money for the Football Management System. Five hours later, the AFF performs a U-turn by amending its statement to say that it was an NFL club (Tiong Bahru) that gave the money through FAS.
In the evening, Mr Lee produces a series of cheques, payment vouchers and a letter to show that it was Mr Zainudin who had asked Mr Ng to donate the $500,000 to the AFF and that Mr Ng was aware that the money was for the AFF's Football Management System.
Mr Ng responds by saying that the FAS general secretary gave him a letter requesting a donation for the AFF's Football Management System in 2014. Mr Ng signed as he felt that he wanted to support FAS.
Mr Ng had earlier maintained that when he agreed to Mr Lee's request for a donation, it was strictly on the basis that the money was to be used to benefit Singapore football, especially the local clubs.
When asked yesterday why he had signed off on the "Request to donate" letter, a spokesman for Mr Ng replied that the presidential hopeful had done so because "his intent has always been to support FAS and football".
The letter from Mr Ng thanked Mr Zainudin "for sharing and giving us the opportunity to contribute to the development of Football Association of Singapore and Asean Football Federation (AFF) through the proposed Football Management System".
"I am happy to inform you that we will contribute $500,000 to Asean Football Federation through FAS to develop this Football Management System."
Mr Lee, 52, also produced scanned copies of cheques, that appeared to bear Mr Ng's signature, made payable to the FAS, totalling $500,000.
There are also payment vouchers from Tiong Bahru FC which are documented as "being payment for sponsorship of AFF Football Management Systems".
Mr Ng is a presidential hopeful leading a slate called the Game Changers in the April 29 FAS elections, the first time the body is holding democratic polls.
Facing him is lawyer Lim Kia Tong, 64, who is fielding a team called Team LKT.
Since polls were called earlier this month, both sides have revealed their slate of candidates and their manifesto. However, much of the debate has been over a donation by Mr Ng's Tiong Bahru FC, where it ended up and what it was used for.
The AFF further muddied the waters yesterday with two conflicting statements in a day.
At noon, the AFF published a statement on its website saying that it was the FAS which had donated the money for the Football Management System. Five hours later, the AFF did a U-turn and amended its statement to say that it was an NFL club (Tiong Bahru) that gave the money through FAS.
The other main point of contention - who asked for the donation? Mr Ng maintains it was Mr Lee, while Mr Lee and Team LKT say the donation was a matter between Mr Zainudin and Mr Ng, although Mr Lee said that he saw nothing untoward about that arrangement.
"FAS Council approval was not needed and not sought because this was a donation which Bill Ng made to AFF, not FAS. I am thus puzzled as to why Bill Ng and the Game Changers have made various unfounded accusations against me, when this matter was discussed and concluded between him and Zainudin directly, as Bill Ng's own letter clearly shows," said Mr Lee.
He added: "In addition, I am also puzzled by why Bill Ng would go to great lengths to insist that Zainudin had no role to play in this donation. Again, this is clearly false and Bill Ng must come clean as to why he chose to hide Zainudin's role in the transaction."
Mr Ng gave a different version of events. He said: "It was Winston Lee who met me on multiple occasions in 2014 to seek the donations from Tiong Bahru FC for a Football Management System to be developed for the benefit of Singapore football and Asean football."
To explain the copy of the letter produced by Mr Lee, Mr Ng added: "What was presented by Winston Lee, however, was a letter which he had prepared, which he then directed me to reproduce using the Tiong Bahru FC letterhead to address to Mr Zainudin Nordin, confirming the 'request to donate'."
It is unclear at this point if any laws have been broken over the donation, but when contacted, a spokesman for national sports agency Sport Singapore said: "We have requested FAS to provide full details on the donations and we are looking into the matter."
The one man in the middle of the debate who has not been heard from so far is Mr Zainudin. When The Straits Times approached the former Bishan-Toa Payoh GRC MP, he said he is unaware of the latest developments and will not comment for now.
He said: "I already said I won't be commenting. I'm not running in the election."
When ST asked him if he wanted to see the documents surfaced by Mr Lee, the former FAS chief said he was tired and declined.
•Additional reporting by Chua Siang Yee