Businessman acquitted of match-fixing charges
A District Judge acquitted businessman Rajendar Prasad Rai of six match-fixing charges abroad, finding reasonable doubt in the evidence of central witness Shree Manish Kalra that made any conviction unsafe.
Rajendar, 43, was alleged to have conspired with his nephew Manish, then 22, to fix six match results played in three different destinations in Europe in 2013 and 2014.
But the trial had centred on Manish's evidence. Apart from that, there was no independent and objective evidence that the six matches were indeed fixed, said District Judge Crystal Ong in oral grounds on Thursday.
She noted that the "prosecution has painted a picture of the accused as a match fixer". To convince the court, they relied on statements Manish had made and pointed to evidence that supported what he said.
"While there is some objective evidence which corroborates what he said in the statements, there is also objective evidence which contradicts what he said," added Judge Ong.
In these friendly matches staged abroad, Rajendar and Manish were said to have fixed the results through picking specific match officials for the games.
Judge Ong noted there were no probes conducted into any of these six matches by Fifa, Uefa or any other government or football authority, and neither was any action taken against parties concerned nor was anyone called as witnesses.
The trial, which started in the middle of last year and lasted for more than 30 days, instead dwelt on Manish.
Manish's statements to the Corrupt Practices Investigation Bureau (CPIB) in 2015 implicated Rajendar and himself, but he retracted the statements in court, claiming he had lied to "fix" Rajendar.
Deputy Public Prosecutors Navin Naidu and Stacey Fernandez then treated Manish as a hostile witness, cross-examined him and urged the court to reject his trial evidence and accept his statements where he had incriminated not just the accused but himself as well.
But defending Senior Counsel N. Sreenivasan and lawyer Jason Lim called for the court to drop his CPIB statements, which were inconsistent with independent evidence.
The judge assessed Manish, a law graduate, to be "very clever, very eloquent, extremely street-smart and extremely good at thinking on his feet".
Noting Manish was the one "driving the contents of the statements" he made to CPIB, the judge accepted he had "personal knowledge" of these matches, which meant they were "well-suited" to support a "credible account" if he sought to incriminate Rajendar.
Judge Ong noted that Manish was given a Discharge Not Amounting to Acquittal (DNAQ) two months after he sought to retract his statements in October 2015.
"If the prosecution were not impressed by Manish's reasons for wanting to retract his statements pre-trial, and still believed that the statements were true and accurate, then I am puzzled by the decision to grant him a DNAQ," said Judge Ong.