Was it proper for SportSG to have filed a police report against Tiong Bahru Football Club?

SportSG, a statutory board under the Ministry of Community Development, Youth and Sports had announced that it had made a police report on Wednesday, 19 April 2017 at about 7.50pm, in respect of suspected misuse of Tiong Bahru Football Club’s funds and a purported attempt by a senior officer of the Club to delay and/or obstruct the completion of audits into the S.League sit-out clubs.

Following the police report, the Football Association of Singapore, Tiong Bahru Football Club, Hougang Football Club and Woodlands Wellington Football Club have been visited by officers from the Commercial Affairs Department (CAD) on Thursday late afternoon.

SportSG noted that it had received a letter from a named individual alleging that a senior officer of a Football Club had instigated another club to delay and/or obstruct the completion of audits until after the Football Association of Singapore (FAS) Elections, scheduled to be held on 29 April 2017, with false reasons.

SportSG claimed that the said audits had been initiated in mid-2016 by the FAS in response to its queries and is concerned with the impact which this might have on the propriety and integrity of the audits.

It then decided to file a police report based on legal advice after further checks and information received which raised some serious questions about the use of funds.

Bill Ng’s own goal?

What many would find bewildering is that a successful businessman who had pulled football clubs from the brink of closure, would perform an amazing act of own goal by bringing up a case of misuse of club funds himself during a press conference about his team’s election promise for the upcoming FAS election.

In the press conference last Thursday, Bill Ng, chairman for Tiong Bahru Football Club revealed that he had donated $850,000 to the FAS and claimed that he did not know how the money was used.

Since the donations to FAS were brought to light, much criticism have been made against FAS for donating $500,000, a sizeable amount of money to a foreign entity which could have been used to support the local football scene.

Both parties, Ng and FAS presented differing accounts of how the matter came to be.

FAS claims that Ng was in the knowledge that the donation was meant for AFF and provided the media with a letter of request signed off by Ng, with receipts detailing donations meant for AFF.

Ng on the other hand, argues that it was FAS secretary-general, Winston Lee who met him on multiple occasions in 2014 to seek the donations from Tiong Bahru FC for a Football Management System to be developed for the benefit of Singapore football and ASEAN football. According to Ng, the letter released by FAS was a letter prepared by Lee for him to reproduce and had it addressed to former FAS president and PAP MP Mr Zainudin Nordin, confirming the ‘request to donate’. He claimed that it was in this letter that the term “AFF Football Management System” was first used. As such, all payment vouchers to the FAS thereafter by administrative staff of Tiong Bahru FC adopted this term.

Most comments that can be seen on news reports on the matter have been asking if FAS would be investigated.

With the police report made by SportsSG, supporters, football clubs and readers alike are puzzled at why the investigation was targeted at Ng’s football clubs, the person who raised the issue up in the first place.

Is it proper for SportSG to have made the police report?

While SportSG, as governing sports body, has all rights to look into matters of discipline and integrity of sports entities in Singapore, given the complexity and differing accounts of the involved parties, it may be questionable for it to have filed a police report specifically targeting at certain individuals and entities.

In my opinion, SportSG should have sought to convene a commission of inquiry on the matter of donation to assess the matter, allowing parties to present their evidence to a committee and not a trial by media as what has been transpiring over the past week. SportSG should not have  jumped into conclusion that there had been illegal activities conducted by concerned parties, allowing the public to speculate on the matter with the news of clubs being raided by the police.

Not to mention, SportsSG should demand that the former FAS president comment on the matter and give his version of what transpired. Mr Zainudin Nordin has been keeping his silence so long since the beginning of the saga with no press stalking him at his residence as what one would presume high-profile individuals would be subjected to.

In its statement, SportsSG also stated that it received further information on 18 April 2017 in regards to the donation of the $500,000. Given that both parties in the saga have presented their side of the story, what is this further information that it received about the donation which it cannot share with the public?

Furthermore, if one concerned party has information or interest on the matter, shouldn’t that person make the police report or be advised by SportSG to do so? Is it due process to have a statutory board make a police report against a suspected offence based on hearsay and for the police to act on it?

Also, the speed in which the police acted is astonishing not to say the least.

Police reports filed against companies that were allegedly involved in large scale scams or commercial fraud rarely receive such immediate attention within a day of filing police report.

Speaking from personal experience, the CAD officer in charge of my case has not replied my queries for three years and I have been trying to get a reply from that same officer who is still in CAD for a whole month. The efficiency in this particular case simply bugs me.

What if police investigation affects election results?

According to The New Paper, FAS’ Electoral Committee chairman K Bala Chandran said that there “is no reason for any disruption of the elections” and said “The Ad Hoc Electoral Committee (EC) has no power to postpone or call off the election of the FAS Council and as at this moment knows of no reason for any disruption of the elections,”

Given that the upcoming FAS election will be taking place on 29 April, does SportsSG think that the police is able to come to a conclusive result of the matter within nine days or six working days to say, and without contestation from the parties involved.

As to how the public view of the matter as of now, the perception would be that Ng and his club might possibly be guilty in some way or another.

If the investigation finds no fault of the suspected football clubs, but yet the election results are affected as a result of the ongoing police report and investigation, how can the affected individuals and entities seek redress and compensation?

In Dec 2015, FAS was compelled by Fifa, the international governing body for football, to hold open election to determine its office bearers instead of the long-standing practice of having the sports minister to appoint individuals to association. A FIFA spokesperson said that the organisation wants to end third-party influence in the FAS, even if that third party is a government ministry.

In May 2015, it was reported that FIFA suspended the Indonesian Football Association for its government’s meddling in the country’s domestic league.

As for Singapore, FIFA is said to be monitoring the situation of FAS and it could also do the same with what it did with Indonesia, which would mean that all national football activities will come to a standstill.