SINGAPORE: Singapore's reputation for low corruption came under fire on Tuesday after revelations that a criminal gang based in the city-state rigged hundreds of football matches in Europe and elsewhere.
While police had no immediate comment and some of the country's state-linked media downplayed the news, some Singaporeans expressed shock and analysts said the scandal could harm the wealthy island's squeaky-clean image.
In just the latest indication that Singapore is at the heart of a global match-fixing empire, European police said they had smashed a network rigging hundreds of games, including in the Champions League and World Cup qualifiers.
Europol said a five-country probe had identified 380 suspicious matches targeted by a Singapore-based betting cartel, whose illegal activities stretched to players, referees and officials across the world.
A further 300 suspicious matches have been identified outside Europe in Africa, Asia, and South and Central America, in the course of the investigation, Europol said.
Singapore's role in international match-rigging has long been clear, with Wilson Raj Perumal jailed in Finland in 2011 and another Singaporean, Tan Seet Eng or Dan Tan, wanted in Italy over the "calcioscommesse" scandal.
But the latest news shone a harsh light on the problem and raised potential problems for Singapore's reputation, as well as questions about how authorities are dealing with the match-fixing syndicates, analysts said.
"This story has the potential to severely damage the global reputation of Singapore as a safe and ethical financial hub in Asia," said Jonathan Galaviz, managing director of US-based consultancy Galaviz & Co, who has closely watched Asia's gaming industry.
"Singapore's public policy makers need to reassess whether they have enough resources dedicated to monitoring and enforcing laws relating to illegal gambling and sports corruption in the country," he told reporters.
"It looks like this global investigation has a long way to go and Singapore's government must get ahead of the curve on it quickly.
"Major questions will arise as to what the government authorities in Singapore knew, when did they know it, and why this illegal network running out of Singapore was not caught sooner."
Galaviz said football is a sport with a global audience, including millions of fans in Asia, and while there are small cases of illegal sports betting in almost every country, "it looks like this case is going to have global ramifications of epic proportions."
"What is disturbing about this case is that it seems that Singapore's status as a financial hub was potentially being used for nefarious purposes, and that is going to be extremely disturbing to a lot of people."
Neil Humphreys, a popular sports columnist and author, asked why "so little is being done to question Singaporean individuals allegedly involved in such a global match-fixing operation."
"More pertinently, the issue has not received quite the same front-page media attention that it has in other football-popular countries, despite the obvious fact that Singapore is allegedly home to the ringleaders of the world's biggest match-fixing syndicate," he said.
Singapore police said they were formulating a response to the European announcement. Meanwhile, the country's leading daily, the ‘Straits Times,’ put the story on page three.