SINGAPORE: Match-fixer Eric Ding, who is currently serving a 5-year jail sentence for corruption, pleaded guilty to two more charges for perverting the course of justice on Friday (Oct 23), and was handed down an additional 12-month jail term, increasing his sentence to six years in prison.
Ding pleaded guilty to one count of perverting the course of justice under Section 204A of the Penal Code. The court heard that he stuffed a receipt into his sock in an attempt to hide it from officers at the Corrupt Practices Investigation Bureau on Apr 24, 2013.
Officers confronted Ding after noticing a bulge in his sock. Ding had crumpled up and stuffed a receipt from a law firm for a S$5,000 deposit he had paid to engage legal counsel for Muhammed Hassan Shahood Din. Muhammed Hassan, who is currently serving a term of preventive detention, had been under investigation for his involvement in an international match-fixing syndicate.
For perverting the course of justice, Ding could have faced up to another 7 years’ jail and a fine.
He also pleaded guilty to another charge under Section 40(3) of the Criminal Procedure Code, for refusing to provide the password to his computer to officersfrom the Criminal Investigation Department, for the purpose of investigations.
When officers eventually gained access to the computer, several incriminating emails and communications between Ding and the three Lebanese FIFA football officials he had bribed with prostitutes were recovered, clearly pointing to Ding’s involvement in match-fixing activities, the court heard.
For obstructing the lawful exercise of an officer’s powers, Ding could have faced up to another 3 years’ jail or a fine of up to S$10,000.
Deputy Public Prosecutor Asoka Markandu urged the court to impose a sentence of nine to 12 months’ jail on the first additional charge, and six to nine months’ jail for the second. DPP Markandu also asked the court that these additional sentences should commence at the end of the 5-year jail term Ding is currently serving, effectively lengthening Ding’s sentence by at least another year.
Ding’s prior 5-year sentence is the “harshest sentence ever received for match-fixing”, Ding’s lawyer Abraham Vergis told the court. DPP Markandu responded by telling the court that he would like to “diffuse any notion of sympathy. It is the appropriate sentence for him”, according to sentencing benchmarks for match-fixers established by the High Court.
Mr Vergis called for Ding to be handed “nominal sentences” for the two charges, and for the new sentences to run concurrently with Ding’s present sentence, leaving his total jail term unchanged at 5 years.
AN ACT OF "UTTER STUPIDITY"
The lawyers also argued over the significance of the receipt Ding attempted to conceal “right under the noses of officers”.
DPP Markandu said the receipt, if presented at Ding’s trial last year, would have allowed the court to link Ding to a match-fixing syndicate. Ding would have been sentenced appropriately then, and the prosecution would not have had to bring an appeal to the High Court, where it was decided on appeal that there was in fact sufficient evidence to believe Ding was part of a syndicate.
The DPP also urged the judge to consider what was going through Ding’s mind when he tried to conceal the receipt – that it would have likely incriminated him further.
Mr Vergis appealed to the judge not to consider the two charges in isolation, but as “investigation offences”, arising from proceedings relating to the “main show” – the three corruption charges. The lawyer also urged the court not to “tack on” an additional sentence to Ding’s 5 years.
“People do all sorts of things which in a reasonable state they would not have done”, Mr Vergis said of Ding’s actions, calling them “utter stupidity”. But he added that “fortunately no real harm was done”, because officers caught Ding red-handed.
Mr Vergis also told the court that Ding and his family have been “on an emotional rollercoaster ride” due to the proceedings against him, and urged the judge to consider the hardship and “tremendous damage” caused to Ding’s family, who were in court on Friday.
"I deeply regret what I've done," said Ding. He was wearing a purple prison jumpsuit, and noticeably skinnier than at his previous court appearance.
"Prison life has taught me well. I've reflected and am remorseful for the damage I've caused, and the pain and misery brought upon my family. They do not deserve to suffer along with me."
Ding asked the judge to show him "mercy and leniency".
The two offences were committed while he was under investigation for match-fixing. Ding had indicated at the trial that he wanted these charges to be tried separately.
In sentencing Ding to another 12 months’ jail, District Judge Toh Yung Cheong said it is in the public’s interest to ensure important evidence is not deliberately concealed, especially in the prosecution of serious crimes, such as match-fixing. The judge also noted that Ding’s refusal to disclose his computer password led to “considerable resources” being used to break the encryption.
Judge Toh also explained that he had decided to lengthen Ding’s jail term, instead of allowing the added 12-month sentence to be served concurrently, because he considered the obstruction offences to be “distinct” from the corruption offences.
Ding, 33, was sentenced to three years’ jail in July last year after a 25-day trial, over three corruption charges. He was found guilty of bribing three Lebanese FIFA football officials with prostitutes, as an inducement to fix future matches that they would officiate.
Earlier this year, Ding’s jail sentence was upped to five years by Justice Chan Seng Oon, after a successful appeal by the prosecution in the High Court.
Financial investigations are still being carried out into Ding’s case, under the Corruption, Drug Trafficking and Other Serious Crimes (Confiscation of Benefits) Act, which provides for the proceeds or benefits of crime to be confiscated.
Ding’s assets, including his bank accounts, remain frozen.