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October 28, 2009

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Arrests made as betting probe rocks Taiwan

AUTHORITIES in Chinese Taipei have detained six people on suspicion of accepting bets that prompted deliberately poor performances from baseball players, a prosecutor's spokesman said yesterday.

The case, following a drive earlier this year to stop baseball gambling in Taiwan, could further tarnish the image of the island's shrinking Chinese Professional Baseball League.

The domestic game has already lost viewership due to public suspicion of betting.

Taiwan province's cabinet said earlier this year it would clamp down on gambling as celebrities attended games to revive spectator interest in the island's most popular sport.

The Banciao prosecutor's office in suburban Taipei detained six suspected betting intermediaries and questioned five others, spokesman Cheng Hsin-hung said.

More people are likely to be questioned as the probe proceeds, he said, adding that gambling organizers are suspected of taking bets on which team would win and by how many points.

He declined to say how many bets he believes were placed, how much money might have changed hands and how many players would have intentionally under-performed.

"We're not saying yet that these people are guilty, but the odds that they committed crimes is pretty high," Cheng said.

"We think this time individual players went in on it - not whole teams as in the past. We don't think the coaches or managers got involved."

One of the league's teams, the Brother Elephants, said it would apologize if evidence pointed to any of its players.

"Elephants President Hong Jui-ho emphasized that ... as long as evidence points toward team players, the team absolutely won't tolerate it and will apologize openly to the public and the fans at large," the team said on the CPBL's Website.

Taiwan's Criminal Investigation Bureau said it logged 102 illegal baseball betting cases, involving 222 people, last year.

The league's four teams have lost 45 percent of their stadium attendance over the past five years, cutting attendance to about 573,000 annually, league statistics showed.

Former Colorado Rockies and Los Angeles Dodgers pitcher Tsao Chin-hui has acknowledged that investigators searched his Taipei home on Monday.

"I regret (the investigators) failed to understand what happened with me and others who have played in good faith," said Tsao, who this year joined the Brother Elephants.

Tsao, 28, was the first Chinese Taipei pitcher to take the mound in the major leagues but struggled with a succession of injuries which limited his appearances for both the Rockies and later Dodgers.

Hung Rwei-ho, Tsao's manager, said Tsao and five other Elephants players were being investigated. Chang Chih-chia, formerly of Japan's Seibu Lions who now pitches for the La New Bears, has admitted he is a subject of the corruption probe, and local media say that one or two players from the Sinon Bulls are also involved.

Cheng said the probe had reached a critical stage.

"We have ruled out the possibility that the players were intimidated and forced into throwing games, and are investigating whether they accepted improper benefits," he said.

Local media, citing unnamed investigators, said that starting pitchers could earn up to US$90,000 per appearance from high stakes gamblers for agreeing to throw games.


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