Soccer scandal shows darker side of regimented Singapore

Thu Feb 7, 2013 6:06pm EST
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By John O'Callaghan

SINGAPORE (Reuters) - Singapore has long cultivated a reputation as a clean, safe and regimented place to live and do business in a turbulent region, but the apparently major role of Singaporeans in a global soccer match-fixing scandal shows a seamy underside often out of view.

The soccer scam, graft cases against high-level officials and revelations that some bank traders colluded to manipulate currency rates run contrary to the image of an orderly society, well-swept streets and manicured greenery in a place dubbed "Disneyland with the death penalty" by writer William Gibson.

There was no particular reason for match-fixers to be based in Singapore, other than some of the suspects happened to live in the wealthy city-state, said Shashi Nathan, a leading criminal lawyer, noting that the syndicates worked in private and across borders using mobile phones and computers.

"I'm on the one hand surprised that this has come out of Singapore. On the other hand, even with its heavy regulation, we have to keep in mind that the nature of the offence is very, very hard to detect," said Nathan, a director at INCA Law LLC.

"The mistake people make is, because Singapore is so clean and regulated, there's no crime. If so, I'd be out of a job."

Singapore - a major financial centre whose long-ruling government favors an investor-friendly, technocratic approach - is ranked the fifth least-corrupt country in the world by Transparency International and regularly tops global lists for the ease of doing business.

Murders are rare, gun crime is nearly non-existent and drug possession of any kind is a serious offence leading to jail time and sometimes lashings with a rattan cane. Drug traffickers face the death penalty by hanging.

But Singapore still has its share of scandal and vice.   Continued...