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Singapore soccer star convicted

SINGAPORE, June 10 -- Australian professional soccer player Abbas Saad, 27, was convicted and fined 50,000 Singapore dollars ($35, 971) in a Singapore court Saturday for his role in fixing soccer matches between Singapore and Malaysia in 1994. Abbas was the Singapore national team's star player for three seasons. Many of Abbas' fans, who had packed the courtroom during the 15-day trial, burst into tears when the judge declared the verdict. The fans cheered, screamed and embraced one another when the judge later sentenced Abbas to a fine instead, as many had feared, of the maximum sentence of five years in prison and a fin of 100,000 Singapore dollars ($71,942) fine. Fans mobbed Abbas with flowers and shouts of 'We love you,' as he left the courtroom. Many had to be pushed away by policemen. Abbas' attorney would not say whether he would appeal the conviction. The court found Abbas guilty of criminal conspiracy for agreeing to help his former Singapore teammate Michael Vana, 31, win three Malaysian Premier League matches in 1994. Vana, who jumped bail and fled Singapore after his arrest last year, allegedly offered forward Abbas 15,000 dollars ($10,791) per game to score as many goals as possible during play. Abbas said he agreed to help Vana by playing his best, but refused to accept money, according to statements reportedly taken from Abbas by officers from Singapore's Corrupt Practices Investigation Bureau (CPIB). Abbas is the first professional player to be convicted in a match- fixing scandal that has rocked Malaysian soccer and preceded Singapore's permanent withdrawal from the Malaysian league earlier this year.

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Abbas' conviction relied on three written statements he signed during a 47-hour CPIB interrogation in February. District judge Khoo Oon Soo admitted the statements as evidence against Abbas despite allegations that they were made under threat and inducement, and that Abbas was ill and exhausted when they were taken. Defense attorney Edmond Pereira said interrogating officers accused Abbas of having an affair with a married woman, and threatened to bring in her husband if Abbas did not sign the statements. Pereira also said the officers told Abbas he would not be in trouble because he had not accepted any money, and would be free to leave after he signed the statements. Abbas testified that he was ill with a cold when he was taken into custody, and that he was left in a small room with excessive air conditioning and not allowed sufficient rest during questioning. CPIB officers who had questioned Abbas flatly denied that any threat or inducement had been made, and said Abbas had appeared fit and was allowed to rest between interview sessions. Judge Khoo called the allegations of mistreatment 'groundless and spurious.' Khoo also chastised Pereira for prolonging the trial, saying, 'The CPIB officers had go to through the humiliation of being paraded in court,' Khoo said. 'The conduct of the defense was not an irrelevant factor' in determining the sentence, Khoo added. Pereira asked for mitigation before sentencing. 'As a result of this conviction, he will not be able to play professional football again. That in itself is sufficient punishment,' he said. The judge said that corruption was unacceptable at any level, but that Abbas' refusal to accept money for his help in winning the matches was a mitigating factor.

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