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Singapore court jails Lebanon officials in match-fixing row

By Kevin Lim

SINGAPORE (Reuters) - A Singapore court jailed two Lebanese assistant referees for three months on Monday and postponed passing sentence on a Lebanese referee after all three pleaded guilty to accepting sexual bribes to fix a soccer match.

Singapore has been the focus of a international probe into soccer match-fixing, with European anti-crime agency Europol saying in February that hundreds of matches had been fixed in a global betting scam run from the Southeast Asian city-state.

Assistant referees Ali Eid and Abdallah Taleb were jailed for three months, backdated to April 4 when they were detained by police.

Referee Ali Sabbagh will be sentenced on Tuesday.

Prosecutors have asked that Ali Sabbagh be jailed for about six months, saying he was the most culpable, having influenced the two assistants to accept the sexual bribe.

Prosecutors said Ali Sabbagh first made contact with accused Singaporean match fixer Ding Si Yang in June 2012 at a cafe in Beirut. Ding has also been arrested and his case will be heard after the one involving the Lebanese officials.

Ding, who is out on S$150,000 ($119,000) bail, has pleaded not guilty to three bribery charges against him - one for each of the Lebanese defendants.

The three Lebanese, all accredited with world soccer body Federation Internationale de Football Association (FIFA), met Ding on April 2 "to discuss their preference for girls", the prosecution said.

In the early hours of April 3, they accepted sexual favors from three women hired by Ding in return for influencing a future soccer match, the prosecutors said.

The three Lebanese had been scheduled to officiate a match between Singapore's Tampines Rovers and India's East Bengal on the same day but were hastily replaced hours before kick-off by the Asian Football Federation.

Gary Low, the lawyer defending the three Lebanese, said in mitigation that the "acceptance of the gratification by our clients did not result in any actual football match being fixed".

The "gratification" was arranged by Ding "with a view to fixing a football match in the future" and his clients were willing to assist Singapore authorities by becoming prosecution witnesses, Low added.

Ali Eid and Abdallah Taleb could be released from prison as early as Monday, as Singapore authorities typically reduce jail sentences by one-third for good behavior.

The two had faced a possible maximum fine of S$100,000 ($80,900) and a five-year prison term.

(Editing by Nick Macfie)

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