Judge rejects cricketer's fix claim

 

A judge has rejected disgraced teenage Pakistan cricketer Mohammad Amir's claim that he was only involved in fixing one match.

Fast bowler Amir, 19, pleaded guilty to plotting to bowl deliberate no-balls in the Lord's Test against England last summer - but insisted this was "an isolated and one-off event".

However, Mr Justice Cooke ruled at London's Southwark Crown Court today that text messages sent from shadowy contacts in Pakistan suggest the young cricketer was also implicated in fixing during the earlier Oval Test.

Amir's lawyers agreed a basis of plea with prosecutors when he admitted conspiracy to cheat and conspiracy to accept corrupt payments at a pre-trial hearing in September.

This noted: "The defendant's involvement was limited to the final Test match at Lord's on August 26 and 27.

"This was the defendant's first and only involvement, and was therefore an isolated and one-off event.

"The defendant only became involved as a result of pressure (not amounting to physical threats) and influence to the effect that if he did not become involved, he would suffer serious professional implications for his future career."

But the judge dismissed Amir's claim that he was not involved in fixing before the game at Lord's in north London.

"I refuse to accept that basis of plea on the material I have seen," he told the court.

"There are certainly texts and the like which suggest that Amir's first and only involvement was not limited to Lord's, it was not an isolated and one-off event.

"What I have in mind are the various texts relating to the Oval Test."

Amir plotted with Pakistan's former Test captain Salman Butt, 27, fast bowler Mohammad Asif, 28, and corrupt London-based sports agent Mazhar Majeed, 36, to bowl three deliberate no-balls in the Lord's Test as part of a lucrative betting scam, the court has heard.

The trial of Butt and Asif - who were yesterday convicted of conspiracy to cheat and conspiracy to accept corrupt payments - heard that suspicious text messages were sent between Amir and associates in Pakistan on the eve of the Oval Test between August 18 and 21 last year.

Just after midnight on August 17 Amir sent his bank details to a contact in Pakistan, whom he texted again in a panic after the match-fixing scandal broke on August 28 asking for details of his calls to be deleted.

The teenage bowler also texted another Pakistan number before the Oval match, asking, "How much and what needs to be done?" and then confirming, "So in first three, bowl however you want, and in the last two, do eight runs?"

A text from an Indian number to Majeed in the early hours of the first day of the game appears to implicate Amir in fixing "brackets", a set period of a game on which punters bet, for example, how many runs will be scored.

The message read: "Kami (wicket-keeper Kamran Akmal) and Aamer (Amir) minimum 13 of first three overs after Kami gives an indication by change of gloves with no wkt (wicket). It starts from round of overs, say 35 or 40, whichever is first after they come in together. Next seven overs, maximum 15 runs."

Amir and Majeed also exchanged calls and texts on the morning of the third day of the Oval Test, the court heard.

The judge told Amir's barrister, Henry Blaxland QC: "There is no evidence of a 'yes' on his part, although you will accept I think that he was in regular and substantial contact with someone who was undoubtedly seeking to influence him to bowl brackets."

Mr Blaxland responded that Amir at a "relatively early stage" did not return the large number of calls made to him.

The judge asked whether Amir was claiming that more senior Pakistan cricketers - in particular his former captain, Butt - put him under pressure to become involved in fixing.

Mr Blaxland replied: "He takes responsibility for his own actions and he does not seek to shift responsibility to his co-defendants."

Aftab Jafferjee QC, prosecuting, said Amir at first denied delivering two deliberate no-balls at Lord's when he was interviewed by police on September 3 last year.

"His account was that he received no money for bowling either of the no-balls and that each of them occurred because of slippery conditions," he said.

Mr Jafferjee also applied for a compensation order to repay the £150,000 in cash that an undercover reporter from the News of the World paid to Majeed as part of an arrangement to rig cricket games, including the no-balls at Lord's.

The three cricketers were mobbed by photographers and camera crews as they arrived at court this morning for the two-day sentencing hearing.

Court 4 was packed with British and Pakistani journalists and cricket fans eager to find out the fate of the players.

Four of the 12 jurors who found Butt and Asif guilty yesterday returned to the courtroom today to see sentence passed.

The International Cricket Council imposed five-year suspensions on all three cricketers in February over the deliberate no-balls at Lord's. They are all appealing against the bans.

Majeed has already admitted his part in the match-fixing plot, it can be revealed today.

He pleaded guilty to conspiracy to cheat and conspiracy to make corrupt payments at a pre-trial hearing on September 16, and now faces sentencing along with the three cricketers.

The judge lifted reporting restrictions banning publication of Majeed's guilty pleas today.

PA