Saturday, January 06, 2007

Former S-League coach on trial for match-fixing

A Singapore court ordered former Malaysian national football coach Chow Kwai Lam to enter his defence on a charge of match-fixing involving an S-League match. The former Paya Lebar-Punggol FC coach is accused of offering the club's former goalkeeper, Zulkifli Zainolabidin, some S$200 to S$300, plus an unspecified amount of money, to let in two or three goals against Home United in an game in June 2005. During the proceedings, Zulkifli repeated his allegations for the prosecution after which, Chow's lawyer Hamidul Haq, was permitted to cross-examine. He suggested that his client was merely "testing" the goalkeeper's integrity and had been prompted to do this by the club's poor start to the 2005 S-League season.

According to Haq, Chow had started to suspect Mr Zulkifli after a 2-0 loss to Woodlands Wellington on 10 May 2005, the club's 10th successive loss since the season's start, surpassing the previous record of nine straight losses set by Tanjong Pagar United in 2004. "As a consequence of observing your performance in some games with Paya Lebar-Punggol, there were suspicions about you, particularly in the Woodlands game, and that (led) Chow to test you," said Haq, as quoted by Jan Tan Yo-Hinn of Media Corp.
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At the close of the prosecution’s case, District Judge Jasvender Kaur asked Chow to enter his defence. Chow, 64, opted to give evidence and was called to the witness box for examination-in-chief by his lawyer. Haq began by examining Chow on his early involvement in football, his coaching career as well as his stint with football clubs in Singapore, first with Tampines Rovers from mid-2002 to mid-2003 and with Paya Lebar Punggol FC from January 2005 to early June 2005. He said that during his stint in Singapore he had spoken against match-fixing very often.

“I always highlight to the players that match-fixing is a dangerous game. I always reminded players they are from poor backgrounds – the majority of footballers are from the lower income group – so by playing football they are being paid to play,” he said, as quoted by Bernama newsagency. “I told them 'don’t get caught up with match-fixing because you will lose your job and get yourself in trouble and not be able to get jobs later on,''' he added. To a question whether during his time as a coach he had ever come across a situation where his players were suspected of match-fixing, he said: “In our position, we always get calls from unknown persons telling us this or that is going to happen. When we get this type of call we will keep an eye on the players. If this turns out to be true, we will replace the player.”

The club's former manager Steven Lee, who was told about the offer by Zulkifli, also took the stand. "He denied the defence's claim that he had not reported the matter to the authorities because he thought Chow's offer was not a serious one. On the contrary, he said he had advised Zulkifli to report the matter to the Football Association of Singapore and the Corrupt Practices Investigation Bureau if Chow approached him to speak on the same matter again," Satish Cheney of Channel NewsAsia reported.

The pre-trial conference continues on Monday. If convicted, 63-year-old Chow faces fines of up to S$100,000 or five years jail, or both.

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