Ronnie Mackay jailed again for match-fixing, court demands harsher penalties

Match-fixer for under-21 Malta-Montenegro match gets two years’ jail, but Magistrate calls for increase in the punishments for corruption in sport and ban on offenders from attending sporting events

The line-up for the Malta-Montenegro U-21 match. Photo: Dominic Aquilina
The line-up for the Malta-Montenegro U-21 match. Photo: Dominic Aquilina

A court has called for harsher penalties for persons convicted of sports-related corruption, as it sentenced a former Armed Forces soldier Ronnie Mackay, 35, to jail on a number of charges related to match fixing.

Mackay, who last October was convicted of a separate case of match-fixing, was today sentenced to imprisonment for two years and fined €2,000 for fixing an international Under-21 match against Montenegro, and attempting to bribe players in a match against the Czech Republic in March 2016.

The investigation kicked off on a report on 26 March 2016, by the Malta Football Association’s integrity officer, which led to the questioning of player Seyble Zammit.

Zammit was arrested and charged on April 2016, pleading guilty, but had escaped punishment after agreeing to assist the police investigation as a whistleblower. Using evidence garnered from Zammit and other sources, the police had established that Mackay was the mastermind behind the match-fixing operation.

Last November, Mackay had testified to having resorted to crime after becoming addicted to gambling through bad company he kept, after finding out that his girlfriend at the time had been unfaithful.

His downward spiral into gambling addiction had left his family “financially ruined” and Mackay in serious debt with three banks and various loan sharks, he had said. It also landed him an 18-month prison term for match-fixing in 2013. After his release from prison, he said that nobody was willing to employ him as he had a criminal record.

Mackay had claimed to have been approached by Seyble Zammit with an offer to bet on a match. Zammit, who admitted to corruption charges in April, but was made exempt from punishment due to his collaboration with the police, had pestered him to place a bet on a First division match, but Mackay had initially refused, he said.

In a 50-page decision delivered this morning, Magistrate Joe Mifsud touched upon various legal doctrines applicable to the case, including the evaluation of witness evidence, the presumption of innocence and complicity.

The court said it approached Zammit’s testimony with “abundant caution” in view of the fact that he was a co-accused and that the law established strict criteria for when such testimony was admissible as evidence.

Mackay had also been offered the opportunity to cooperate with the police and benefit from whistleblower protection, but had instead chosen to leave Malta as soon as it was announced that Zammit was going to be charged, noted the magistrate.

Mackay had not cooperated with the police or the court and had tried to mislead it.

Zammit was the “runner” and it was logical that the other players would mention him as the person who approached them, said the court. Ronnie Mackay had found the financier and taken care of the arrangements to bring the Asian man to Malta – a fact which the court said shed light on a link to organised crime beyond Malta’s shores.

The testimony of Samir Arab was vital in removing all doubt about Seyble Zammit’s testimony, said the magistrate, as Arab had said that an Asian man had accompanied Mackay and that the offer to throw the match had been made by both Mackay and Zammit.

Making reference to the 1993 decision by the Court of Appeal against the former Hamrun footballer, Alex Azzopardi, the court said “this crime undermines Maltese sport and holds it back from achieving an acceptable level. The State had felt the need to impose harsh penalties for this offence. This offence must stop and the court sends message that those who want to involve themselves in these foolish acts cannot expect mercy.”

In view of the harm these crime cause to Malta’s sporting reputation, Magistrate Mifsud called for an increase in the punishments for corruption in sport and that those convicted be barred from attending sporting events.

Mackay was found guilty of all charges and jailed for two years and a fine of €2,000. He was ordered to pay €1,624 in costs.

After the sentence was read out, lawyer Giannella De Marco announced the defence’s intention to file an appeal against the judgment.