Hong Kong’s home-grown football scandal: ICAC brings charges for match-fixing
Another day, another football scandal but this time it’s close to home.
On 28 June 2017, Hong Kong’s Independent Commission Against Corruption “(ICAC”) charged five former players of a local Hong Kong football* club with bribery and fraud over match-fixing.
* or ”soccer” for Australians like the author.
In this play-by-play guide, we commentate on the key facts and stats so you can watch this unfold from the sidelines.
1. The match-up*
* The “parties to proceedings” in legal lingo
The one man squad*
* The “prosecutor” in legal lingo
ICAC was established in 1974 under the Independent Commission Against Corruption Ordinance (Cap. 204) to tackle corruption in Hong Kong.
A veteran, ICAC adopts an all-rounder approach, fighting corruption through a formation of law enforcement, education and prevention.
ICAC is match fit, with its key prosecution statistics of January – December 2016 being 191 completed prosecutions and 141 persons convicted.
ICAC has done the hours in the gym, receiving 1,833 private sector bribery complaints in the same period, representing 63% of complaints in January – December 2016 (excluding election-related complaints).
Finally, ICAC has a solid reputation in the international community, evidenced in the ICAC 2016 Annual Report which includes a summary of the accolades that Hong Kong and its anti-corruption regime continues to receive in a number of international comparative publications.
In short, ICAC has the experience.
The five-a-side team*
* The “accused” in legal lingo
Five former players of the Hong Kong Pegasus Football Club (“Pegasus”).
In the 2015/2016 football season, nine football teams, including Pegasus, competed for the Hong Kong Premier League Championship organised by the Hong Kong Football Association.
The players (“Players”) we are focusing on are:
2. The fouls and misconduct*
* The alleged “offences” in legal lingo
The Players are facing a total of seven charges. All the relevant alleged misconduct took place late in the 2015/16 season (from February 2016 to May 2016).
The rule book*
* Here, the Prevention of Bribery Ordinance (Cap. 201) (“PBO”), section 9
Section 9 of the PBO is the provision that captures corruption amongst “agents” in the private sector.
This is in contrast to sections 3 to 8 of the PBO which only applies to “agents” or dealings involving the public sector.
The charges on the pitch are as follows:
- Charge 1 and 2, the passes: Cheng and Chan each face one charge of offering an advantage to an agent, contrary to section 9(2)(a) of the PBO. Specifically, allegations include that:
- Cheng offered $10,000 to a Pegasus player as a reward for contriving or attempting to contrive the result (that is “match-fix”) the Pegasus v Yuen Long Football Club match on 24 February 2016 (“Yuen Long Match”).
- Chan offered $10,000 to a Pegasus player to match-fix the Pegasus v Biu Chun Rangers Football Club (“Biu Chun Rangers Football Club”) match on 23 March 2016 (“Biu Chun Rangers Match”).
- Charge 3 and 4, the receivers: Lee Wai-lim and Lee Ka-ho each face one charge of an agent accepting an advantage, contrary to section 9(1)(a) of the PBO. Specifically, they are each alleged to have accepted $20,000 from Cheng to match-fix the Yuen Long Match
The off-side rule that commonly catches players*
*AKA the common law “conspiracy to defraud”
Conspiracy to defraud remains a common law offence in Hong Kong.
It is often forgotten when play is moving fast, but it can have a huge impact on the final standings.
The (alleged) violations on the pitch are as follows:
- Charge 5, offensive move: Kwok and Cheng face a joint charge of the common law offence of conspiracy to defraud (“conspiracy to defraud”). Specifically, they are alleged to have conspired together (and with other unknown persons) to match-fix the Yuen Long Match.
- Charge 6, offensive move: Cheng, Lee Wai-lim, Chan and Lee Ka-ho jointly face a similar charge. Specifically, the three Players are alleged to have conspired together and with a then football player of Biu Chun Rangers to match-fix the Pegasus v Biu Chun Rangers match on 13 April 2016.
- Charge 7, offensive move: Cheng Lai-hin, Lee Wai-lim and Chan Pak-hang face a joint charge. This charge was not detailed in ICAC’s press release of 28 June 2017.
3. What are the stakes*?
*”penalties” in legal lingo
The stakes are high.
The PBO sanctions range from:
- summary conviction, a fine of HK$100,000 and one year imprisonment; to
- conviction on indictment, a fine of HK$500,000 and seven years imprisonment.
The penalty for conspiracy to defraud can also include jail time. Hong Kong’s most famous prisoner of this offence is Thomas Kwok, Hong Kong’s third-richest person and former joint Chairman of Sun Hung Kai Properties, who was sentenced to five years in jail in 2014 (his sentence was upheld in 2017 by the Court of Final Appeal) for conspiring to corrupt a Hong Kong government official.
4. The referee* and next appearance** for the Players?
* the “court” in legal lingo
** court appearance, not football match (or social event) appearance
It’s not a confirmed away game yet for the Players, as they are at home having been released on bail pending their appearance on 30 June 2017 in West Kowloon Magistracy for transfer of the case to the District Court.
We’ll keep you updated with progress reports.