SINGAPORE: The High Court upheld the acquittal of businessman Rajendar Prasad Rai on six match-fixing charges on Tuesday (Apr 3), following an appeal by the prosecution against the decision made by District Judge Crystal Ong in July 2017.
Judge Ong had found that there were reasonable doubts in statements made by the prosecution’s star witness, Shree Manish Kalra, who is also the nephew of the accused. Such doubts would make any conviction wholly unsafe.
Manish had given seven statements to the Corrupt Practices Investigation Bureau (CPIB). However, when he was called as a witness, he did an about-turn and sought to retract the CPIB statements, alleging that he had given them in order to frame Rajendar as he was angry with his uncle.
In their submissions for the appeal against acquittal, Deputy Public Prosecutors Alan Loh and Loh Hui-Min said that the trial judge had erred in acquitting Rajendar as she had been “influenced by her unfounded suspicions regarding the circumstances surrounding the recording of Manish’s CPIB statements”.
The prosecutors urged the High Court to give full weight to the statements as they were rich in detail about how both started working to fix the matches, their respective roles, the modus operandi utilised, the names and nationalities of the match officials, match agents and other individuals who were also involved, the details of the matches, and the bets placed on these matches.
The prosecutors also submitted that the contents of Manish’s CPIB statements were corroborated by various other strands of objective evidence like emails, Rajendar’s travel records, a bank transfer of 21,000 euros (S$33,900) made by Rajendar to Manish, and Rajender’s statement where he admitted to fixing the outcome of two games.
However, Justice Hoo Sheau Peng said in her oral judgement that she did not find sufficient grounds to interfere with Judge Ong’s decision.
Rajendar and Manish were alleged to have conspired to fix the results of six matches played in three different locations in Europe between 2013 and 2014 through picking specific match officials for the games.
Judge Ong had noted in her grounds of decision that Manish “had the upper hand in the recording of his (CPIB) statements”, as he had essentially stated that he would not be saying in court what he said in his statements if he was not granted immunity.
“When an accomplice who is providing incriminating evidence against the accused imposes such a condition, it is highly suspect,” said Judge Ong. Given that in October 2015, Manish had sought to retract his CPIB statements, she considered it “puzzling” that the prosecution went on to grant Manish a discharge not amounting to an acquittal on all charges two months later.
She also likened the various pieces of objective evidence as “dots”, which were “not many” and the distance between the dots were “rather substantial".
“It was not as if there was a preponderance of objective evidence such that there left no reasonable doubt as to how these dots all joined up, and pointed to the accused person as being guilty of match-fixing,” said Judge Ong.
In a statement made through his lawyer Senior Counsel N Sreenivasan, Rajendar said that it had been a “long and difficult case” and that he was “glad it was over”. He also said he was “grateful to the judicial system”.