Stephen Lee: Snooker player given 12-year ban for match-fixing
Snooker player Stephen Lee has been banned for 12 years after being found guilty of seven match-fixing charges.
The sport's governing body says it is "the worst case of corruption" it has ever seen but the Englishman continues to insist he has done nothing wrong.
Lee, 38, of Trowbridge in Wiltshire, told the BBC he was "devastated" by the ban and said he was "totally innocent".
The former world number five's suspension will end on 12 October, 2024, the date of his 50th birthday.
In the meantime, he cannot play in any game sanctioned by the World Professional Billiards and Snooker Association (WPBSA).
"The WPBSA has a zero tolerance approach to match fixing and this is further evidence of our uncompromising approach to dealing with such issues," said a spokesman.
Lee, who was not represented at an independent tribunal which heard the case, was also ordered to pay £40,000 costs to help cover legal and other expenses of the WPBSA.
He intends to appeal against the verdict and plans to hire a barrister to defend him.
Tribunal chairman Adam Lewis QC had warned the player he faced "a significant sanction" following a three-day hearing in Bristol earlier in September.
His 35-page summary of the case published on 16 September said three groups of gamblers made a total profit of nearly £100,000 from betting on his matches.
In a statement published on Wednesday, Lewis said the player was taken advantage of by others.
"I concluded that Mr Lee did not strike me as a cynical cheat, but rather as a weak man who under financial pressure, succumbed to the temptation to take improper steps that he may well have justified to himself as not really wrong, because the ultimate result of the match, win or lose, was the same," he added.
"These breaches occurred when Mr Lee was in a financially perilous state not entirely of his own making and was finding it difficult to obtain entry to enough tournaments.
"As a weak man in a vulnerable position, he succumbed to temptation. I consider it unlikely that he was the prime mover or instigator of the activity. It seems to me likely that advantage was taken of him."
Lewis points out that Lee previously had a police investigation into match-fixing claims hanging over him, having been arrested in 2010, before the Crown Prosecution Service decided not to pursue charges in early October 2012.
He also says it has not been established that Lee deliberately lost a match he could have won - rather that he "acted improperly in relation to matches that he either believed he would lose, or that he believed he would win sufficiently comfortably that he could drop the first frame".
Lee, who has been a professional for more than 20 years and the winner of five ranking titles, was found to have fixed outcomes in seven matches in 2008 and 2009.
The tribunal ruled he deliberately lost matches against Ken Doherty and Marco Fu at the 2008 Malta Cup and agreed to lose the first frame against both Stephen Hendry and Mark King at the 2008 UK Championship.
In addition, Lee lost matches by a predetermined score to Neil Robertson at the 2008 Malta Cup and to Mark Selby at the 2009 China Open.
Lee was also found to have conspired to lose his 2009 World Championship first round match to Ryan Day, going on to be defeated 10-4.
If his offences had taken place more recently, he would have been given a mandatory lifetime ban under a tougher new disciplinary regime aimed at countering corruption, but his case was dealt with under the rules which applied at the time of the matches in question.
Fellow professional Joe Jogia was given a two-year ban in July 2012 for "lower-end" offences after an investigation into suspicious betting patterns on a match from which he withdrew with a leg injury.
Four-time world champion John Higgins was found guilty of "giving the impression" he would breach betting rules, and of failing to report an approach in 2010. He was banned for six months.
Australian Quinten Hann was banned for eight years in 2006 for match-fixing offences after a newspaper sting in which he accepted a proposal to lose a China Open match.
While Hann remains suspended, South African Peter Francisco has returned to the game at a low level after serving a five-year match-fixing ban handed down in 1995, following his 10-2 loss to Jimmy White at the World Championship.
WPBSA chairman Jason Ferguson said: "We take no pride in having to deal with such serious issues. However, this demonstrates our commitment to ensuring that snooker is free from corruption."