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Acquittal of match-fixing charges against businessman upheld by High Court

The acquittal of businessman Rajendar Prasad Rai on six match-fixing charges was earlier upheld by the High Court on Tuesday (3 April), following an appeal by the prosecution against the decision made by District Judge Crystal Ong in July 2017.

According to Judge Ong, there were reasonable doubts in statements made by the prosecution’s star witness, Shree Manish Kalra, who is also the nephew of the accused, adding that such doubts would make any conviction wholly unsafe.

Manish had given seven statements to the Corrupt Practices Investigation Bureau (CPIB).

When he was called as a witness, however, he did an about-turn and sought to retract the CPIB statements. He stated that he had given them in order to frame Rajendar as he was angry with his uncle.

Deputy Public Prosecutors Alan Loh and Loh Hui-Min said in their submissions for the appeal against acquittal that the trial judge had erred in acquitting Rajendar as she had been influenced by her unfounded suspicions regarding the circumstances surrounding the recording of Manish’s CPIB statements.

The prosecutors then urged the High Court to give full weight to the statements as they have great detail about how both started working to fix the matches, their respective roles, the modus operandi utilised, the names and nationalities of the match officials, match agents and other individuals who were also involved, the details of the matches, and the bets placed on these matches.

The prosecutors also stated that the contents of Manish’s CPIB statements were reinforced by various other strands of objective evidence like emails, Rajendar’s travel records, a bank transfer of 21,000 euros (S$33,900) made by Rajendar to Manish, and Rajender’s statement where he admitted to fixing the outcome of two games.

Justice Hoo Sheau Peng, however, said in her oral judgement that she did not find sufficient grounds to interfere with Judge Ong’s decision.

Rajendar and Manish were alleged to have conspired to fix the results of six matches played in three different locations in Europe between 2013 and 2014 through picking specific match officials for the games.

As he had essentially stated that he would not be saying in court what he said in his statements if he was not granted immunity, Judge Ong had noted in her grounds of decision that Manish had the upper hand in the recording of his CPIB statements.

Judge Ong said, "When an accomplice who is providing incriminating evidence against the accused imposes such a condition, it is highly suspect."

Given that in October 2015, Manish had sought to retract his CPIB statements, she considered it puzzling that the prosecution went on to grant Manish a discharge not amounting to an acquittal on all charges two months later. She also leveled the various pieces of objective evidence as dots, which were not many and the distance between the dots were rather substantial.

"It was not as if there was a preponderance of objective evidence such that there left no reasonable doubt as to how these dots all joined up, and pointed to the accused person as being guilty of match-fixing," she said.

Rajendar said in a statement made through his lawyer Senior Counsel N Sreenivasan that it had been a long and difficult case and that he was glad it was over and that he was grateful to the judicial system.