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Two charged for alleged match-fixing in England

LONDON (Reuters) - Two men alleged to be members of an illegal betting syndicate based in Singapore were charged with conspiracy to defraud on Thursday as part of a match-fixing investigation into English lower league soccer.

The National Crime Agency (NCA) named the men as Chann Sankaran, a 33-year-old Singapore national, and Krishna Sanjey Ganeshan, a 43-year-old with dual UK and Singapore nationality.

"Two men suspected of involvement in football match-fixing were charged this afternoon," the NCA said in a statement, adding that both had been remanded in custody.

"The Crown Prosecution's Organised Crime Division found sufficient evidence and was satisfied it was in the public interest to authorize charges of conspiracy to defraud."

The pair were among six people arrested earlier this week on suspicion of match-fixing. A seventh man has since been arrested and he and four others were bailed on Thursday.

The Daily Telegraph reported that the focus was on the lower leagues, with the arrests said to include three current footballers and one former Premier League player who is now an agent but still featuring in a league lower than the fifth-tier Football Conference.

The British newspaper has been investigating match-fixing around the globe for months.

The Telegraph did not specify the relevant divisions but one team is alleged to have been involved in three fixed games.

The Conference, which comprises professional and semi-professional clubs, refused to comment on Thursday over allegations some of their matches had been fixed by an overseas betting syndicate.

However, in a statement on their website (www.footballconference.co.uk), the organization said: "The Football Conference has become aware of a story published today concerning arrests being made over alleged match-fixing.

"The Football Conference takes all matters relating to the integrity of the game very seriously but it cannot make any comment on today's story as it would be inappropriate to do so."

The Football Association said in a statement that it had "been made aware of a number of arrests in relation to a National Crime Agency investigation".

MATTER OF TIME

Chris Eaton, former head of security at soccer's ruling body FIFA, told Reuters in an email on Thursday that it was only a matter of time before English football was caught up in international match-fixing.

"Whilst it is shocking to read reports and hear recorded conversations like those highlighted in the Daily Telegraph investigation, match-fixing is an endemic problem in football at various levels around the world," said Eaton, now director of Sport Integrity, the international centre for sport security.

"Nonetheless this case must be put in global context. Governments and football administrators must react calmly and rationally to thoroughly investigate cases like this and implement strong and appropriate measures to tackle the real enemy that is betting fraud."

Eaton's comments were endorsed by Soren Kragh Pedersen, chief of media and public relations at Europol, the European Union's law enforcement agency.

"We've seen that match-fixing is practically everywhere in Europe and it would be strange if it didn't hit the UK as well," Pedersen told Reuters.

"We've had match-fixing in Italy and South Eastern Europe but we're also seeing it in central Europe and Finland and even the German second Bundesliga so why not the UK?".

Earlier this year, an inquiry by European police forces, Europol and national prosecutors uncovered a global betting scam run from Singapore.

About 680 suspicious matches, including the European Champions League and qualifying games for the World Cup and European Championships, were identified in the investigation.

The last major match-fixing scandal in England occurred in the mid-1960s when 10 players were found guilty and jailed for conspiring to fix matches.

(Editing by Tony Jimenez)

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