A man suspected of being the international ringleader of a global match-fixing network was among 14 people arrested in Singapore in what appears to be a major breakthrough in the battle against corruption in football.
Singapore police and the Corrupt Practices Investigation Bureau said in a joint statement that authorities arrested 12 men and two women in raids lasting 12 hours across the city-state, ending early Tuesday.
Interpol, the police body based in Lyon, France, confirmed the arrests in a statement released late Wednesday.
A high-level police official told The Associated Press that those arrested include Tan Seet Eng, widely known as Dan Tan. The official spoke on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to discuss the detention publicly. Prosecutors in Italy have accused Dan Tan of co-ordinating a global crime syndicate that made millions of dollars betting on rigged Italian matches and other games across the world.
The police official added that Dan Tan's arrest was the result of a months-long investigation in Singapore by authorities there and was not in response to arrest requests from foreign law enforcement bodies.
That could be significant because it opens the possibility that Tan could be brought to justice in Singapore, thus avoiding potential extradition problems. Singapore, for instance, has no extradition treaty with Italy, where prosecutors allege that Tan was deeply involved with match-fixing there.
The Singapore authorities did not formally name any of the people taken into custody, but said the "suspected leader" and several others wanted in other jurisdictions for suspected match-fixing were among those in custody.
The Singapore police statement said the suspects are being investigated for match-fixing offences under Singapore's Prevention of Corruption Act and for involvement in organized crime.
"Singapore is committed to eradicate match-fixing as a transnational crime and protect the integrity of the sport. All cases will be pursued vigorously with a view to bring perpetrators to justice," the statement read.
Singapore police declined to release further details.
The detainees are being held under a law that potentially allows Singapore's government to hold suspects without trial for up to 12 months, a detention period that can be extended. Introduced in 1955, that law has been used against suspected drug traffickers, illegal money-lenders and criminal gang members, especially in cases involving insufficient evidence for prosecution.
Match-fixing has become a blight on football, with investigations spanning many countries. A Lebanese referee was sentenced to six months in jail and his assistant referees sentenced to three months by a Singapore court in June for attempting to fix a match in Singapore in April and corruptly receiving bribes from a local businessman.
Earlier this week, police in Victoria, Australia, arrested a Malaysian national and six other men, including a coach and an English goalkeeper, as part of an investigation into illegal gambling in a provincial football competition. Those men were due to appear in the Melbourne Magistrates Court on Friday.
Italian prosecutors investigating dozens of league and cup games they say were fixed had followed a trail back to Tan in Singapore. In court documents which laid out their findings, prosecutors alleged that Tan is the boss of a crime syndicate that allegedly made millions betting on rigged Italian games between 2008 and late 2011, through bribing players, referees and club officials.
Italian authorities issued an arrest warrant for Tan and listed him as their No. 1 suspect, but have been unable to take him into custody.
Chris Eaton, the former head of security for FIFA, football's governing body, said Tan's arrest is "enormously significant."
"Singapore is now taking serious action. It's really pleasing," said Eaton, now director of sport integrity at the International Centre for Sport Security, a Qatar-backed group funding efforts to research the extent of fixing and ways to combat it.
"These people bridge the match fixers and the betting fraud," Eaton said in a telephone interview.
Asked, however, if Tan's arrest means that fixing has been vanquished, he replied: "Absolutely not."
Eaton's successor as FIFA security director, Ralf Mutschke, said last year that news media overstated Tan's alleged role in match-fixing, and that he probably isn't "as involved as everyone is thinking" and has only "symbolic importance."
In its statement, Interpol said several Singaporean law enforcement agencies took part in the operation that led to Tuesday's arrests.
It also said that officers from Singapore met in March at Interpol's Lyon headquarters with investigators from across Europe "to review evidence of alleged match-fixing by a transnational organized crime group based in Singapore."
Associated Press writers Ansley Ng in Singapore and Sean Yoong in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, contributed to this report.