Cricketers guilty of match-fix plot

 

Three of the world's top cricketers were facing possible jail terms tonight after being convicted of match-fixing.

Pakistan's former Test captain Salman Butt, 27, and fast bowlers Mohammad Asif, 28, and Mohammad Amir, 19, plotted to bowl deliberate no-balls in the Lord's Test against England last summer as part of a lucrative betting scam.

The trio were caught after an undercover reporter recorded UK-based sports agent Mazhar Majeed, 36, boasting of how he could arrange for Pakistan cricketers to rig games for money.

Butt missed the birth of his second child as he and former world number two Test bowler Asif were found guilty by a jury at London's Southwark Crown Court of conspiracy to cheat and conspiracy to accept corrupt payments.

Amir, a teenage cricketing sensation who was tipped to become one of the all-time great fast bowlers, admitted the same charges at a pre-trial hearing last month.

The fixing scandal emerged after the News of the World's former investigations editor Mazher Mahmood approached Majeed in August last year pretending to be a wealthy Indian businessman seeking major international cricketers for a tournament.

The agent was secretly filmed accepting £150,000 in cash from the journalist as part of an arrangement to rig games.

Majeed promised the reporter that Asif and Amir would deliver three no-balls at specific points during the Test between Pakistan and England at Lord's in north London from August 26 to 29 last year.

The no-balls were bowled exactly as promised. The probability of someone predicting this by chance was estimated by a cricket statistician as 1.5 million to one.

Amir issued a heartfelt apology for his actions through his barrister, Ben Emmerson QC, who told the court at an earlier hearing: "Amir wants to make it clear he wants to take full responsibility for what he did by deliberately bowling two no-balls.

"This vulnerable 18-year-old boy, as he was then, was subjected to extreme pressure from those upon whom he should have been able to rely.

"He recognises the damage he has caused Pakistan cricket and he wishes to do his best to put that right."

Butt and Asif both strenuously denied any involvement in match-fixing throughout the four-week trial.

Explaining why he bowled a no-ball at Lord's precisely when Majeed said he would, Asif claimed that Butt told him, "run faster, f***er", moments before his delivery.

Butt, whose wife Gul Hassan gave birth to their second son in Pakistan, said the agent asked him to rig parts of crunch games at the 2010 Twenty20 World Cup and last summer's Test series against England.

The former Pakistan captain insisted he ignored the requests, but admitted he did not fulfil his duty to inform the cricketing authorities about the corrupt approach.

Butt and Asif made no reaction in the dock as the jury foreman read out the guilty verdicts, which were unanimous on the conspiracy to cheat charge and by a majority of 10 to two on the conspiracy to accept corrupt payments charge.

The jury was not told that the International Cricket Council imposed five-year suspensions on all three Pakistani cricketers in February. They are all appealing against the bans.

The judge, Mr Justice Cooke, will sentence Butt, Asif and Amir over a two-day hearing tomorrow and on Thursday.

The maximum sentence for cheating is two years in jail and an unlimited fine, while accepting corrupt payments carries a sentence of up to seven years imprisonment and an unlimited fine.

The trial left unanswered questions about just how widespread match-fixing is in cricket.

Majeed claimed he had been rigging games for two-and-a-half years and had made "masses and masses of money".

He spoke of the advantages of "grooming" younger cricketers to work with him and bragged that he had seven players in Pakistan's national side working for him.

The corrupt agent discussed deliberately losing the Oval Test match against England last summer for over a million dollars and plotted to fix games at last year's Twenty20 World Cup in the West Indies.

Majeed also boasted that he and his shady gambling contacts were going to make "a hell of a lot of money" out of last summer's one-day and Twenty20 series between England and Pakistan, claiming they would rig two results within a month.

News International, publishers of the now-defunct News of the World, welcomed the convictions.

A spokeswoman said: "The investigation which exposed match fixing by Pakistani cricketers astonished the world and is to the credit of Mazher Mahmood who led the investigation for the News of the World.

"The convictions secured today are a clear example of where his professional investigative journalism has served the public interest."

Detective Chief Superintendent Matthew Horne, of the Metropolitan Police, said: "The defendants have let down the cricketing world, their fans and the hard-working people that buy tickets to watch.

"I am not sure these men really appreciated how much they were admired by cricket fans. They were role models to countless children around the world and have betrayed their trust."

Sally Walsh, senior lawyer in the Crown Prosecution Service's special crime and counter-terrorism division, said: "People who had paid good money to see a professional and exciting game of cricket on the famous ground at Lord's had no idea that what they were watching was not a true game but one where part of the game had been pre-determined for cash.

"Butt and Asif denied any wrongdoing but the jury has decided after hearing all the evidence that what happened on the crease that day was criminal in the true sense of the word."

PA

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