SINGAPORE (AP) — A Singaporean man detained for more than two years under suspicion of being the mastermind behind a global soccer match-fixing syndicate was ordered to be released Wednesday by the country's highest court, which ruled he was being held unlawfully.
Tan Seet Eng, also known by the nickname Dan Tan, was jailed in October 2013 after Italian prosecutors accused him of coordinating a global crime syndicate that made millions of dollars betting on rigged Italian matches and other games across the world.
Tan was held under a Singaporean law that allows for indefinite detention without trial if it's in the interest of public safety, but Chief Justice Sundaresh Menon of the Singapore Court of Appeal said Wednesday there was no evidence to suggest he was a safety risk.
"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," Menon said as he delivered the decision of the three-judge court.
"The matches fixed, whether or not successfully, all took place beyond our shores," he added. "There is nothing in the grounds to indicate (he) was working with overseas criminal syndicates or to suggest that such activities are likely to take root in Singapore, by reason of anything (he) has done or threatens to do."
Tan's previous appeal had been dismissed by another Singapore court last year.
One of Tan's lawyers, Hamidul Haq, said Wednesday that he had long argued Tan was being held on unlawful grounds.
"It has been proven true today through the court judgment," he said, later adding that Tan has left court and will not make a statement. "My client is very relieved."
Introduced in 1955, the Singaporean detention law has been used against suspected drug traffickers, illegal money-lenders and criminal gang members, especially in cases involving insufficient evidence for prosecution.
Tan was arrested along with 13 others in September 2013 in a move that was hailed by Interpol as a major breakthrough in the battle against corruption in soccer. At the time, Italian prosecutor Roberto Di Martino, who was leading an inquiry into international match-fixing, referred to Tan as the "general director of the ring."
Tan was suspected of being the mastermind behind dozens of fixed matches in Italy's top three divisions and leading a fixing ring stretching as far as South America that was allegedly in operation for more than 10 years.
Tan is also being tried in absentia by a Hungarian court for allegedly manipulating 32 games in Hungary, Italy and Finland.
"It's strange. As I'm concerned there's an abundance of proof," Di Martino told The Associated Press on Wednesday.
Di Martino's inquiry has resulted in 104 indictments so far, with a massive trial slated to start in February. Among those ordered to face trial is Italy coach Antonio Conte, who is accused of committing sports fraud when he coached Siena in 2010-11.
Former Lazio captains Stefano Mauri and Giuseppe Signori, former Atalanta captain Cristiano Doni and current Udinese coach Stefano Colantuono were also indicted.
By using phone taps and tracing money transfers, Di Martino and his staff have illustrated a fixing web led by Tan with intermediaries in eastern Europe who recruited players in Italy to take part in the scams.
"I gave the Singapore police everything and they gave me nothing," Di Martino said. "I even spent 30,000 euros ($32,000) to translate into English an arrest warrant for them. But they never provided any communication. There was zero collaboration."
Di Martino said that an international arrest warrant that he made for Tan still stands.
"If he comes to Italy he'll be arrested," the prosecutor said. "Actually, he'll probably be arrested if he goes anywhere in Europe."