Butt and Asif 'were part of rampant corruption at the heart of the game'

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The Independent Online

The former Pakistan captain Salman Butt and his erstwhile team-mate Mohammad Asif have been accused of being "willing participants" in a "depressing tale of rampant corruption at the heart of international cricket", as the trial of the two players began in earnest at Southwark Crown Court in London yesterday.

The pair are charged with conspiracy to obtain and accept corrupt payments and conspiracy to cheat. The charges centre on alleged spot-fixing – deliberately bowling no-balls at pre-arranged moments – during the fourth Test against England last year. It is claimed £140,000 was paid in cash at the Copthorne Hotel in London the night before the Test and in return for "deadly accurate information given". Both deny the charges.

Aftab Jafferjee QC, for the Crown's case, claimed a "conspiracy" between Butt, the two bowlers Asif and Mohammad Amir, and Butt's agent, Mazhar Majeed, surrounding the Lord's Test, the last in a series the home side won 3-1. Mr Jafferjee suggested the case has its root in the multi-billion pound Far Eastern and Asian illegal gambling markets.

The alleged conspiracy was exposed by the now defunct News of the World and its reporter Mazhar Mahmood, posing as an Indian businessman. Majeed, a British based agent, claimed to Mahmood that he controlled six Pakistan players. As well as being Butt's agent, Majeed also said he managed Asif, Amir, Kamran Akmal and his brother Umar.

The prosecution alleges that Butt, as captain, was central to the plan to carry out Majeed's instructions. Butt's defence to the claim that he orchestrated the delivery of three no-balls at Lord's was that it was a number of "freakish occurrences".

The jury was told that the first meeting between Mahmood and Majeed took place at the Hilton hotel in London on 16 August around 6pm.

The night before the penultimate Test at The Oval, Amir texted a number in Pakistan. "For how much and what needs to be done?" Later, on 28 August after the police had become involved, Amir texted the same number asking "are you able to delete calls to me if you can do it OK? Don't reply".

On the first day of the Oval Test a text from an Indian number was sent to Majeed: "Kami [Kamran Akmal] and Aamer [Amir] minimum 13 off first three overs and after Kami gives an indication by change of gloves with no wkt. It starts from round of overs, say 35 or 40, whichever is first after they come in together. Next seven overs maximum 15 runs". These instructions appear to have been later cancelled as there were concerns over the weather.

On 19 August Majeed and Mahmood met in a car in London. The jury were presented with photographs that allegedly showed Mahmood handing over £10,000 in cash to the agent. Majeed described it as a "taster" – he would arrange two no-balls to be bowled the following day in return for £20,000. Later Majeed asked for a "deposit" of £150,000 "for me to pay my six boys".

The suggestion was to arrange a "bracket", a sequence of play where events follow a pre-agreed outcome, but not to seek to fix a game "because we are trying to win, both The Oval and Lord's, because we want Butt [to remain as captain]".

The case continues.

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