Three of the world's leading cricketers, including the former Pakistan captain Salman Butt, are facing imprisonment after being convicted over their roles in a "spot-fixing" scam.
Butt, 27, and the fast bowler Mohammad Asif, 28, were both found guilty at Southwark Crown Court yesterday of conspiring to cheat and conspiring to accept corrupt payments. They plotted to deliberately bowl no-balls during the fourth Test match against England at Lord's in the summer of 2010.
Another bowler and one of the game's rising stars, Mohammad Amir, admitted the same charges before the five-week trial began. All three players will be sentenced today or tomorrow, and could be jailed for up to seven years. They will become the first cricketers to receive such a punishment for a practice that threatens the integrity of the sport.
Sally Walsh, a senior lawyer in the Crown Prosecution Service's special crime and counter-terrorism division, said: "Through their actions they brought shame on the cricketing world, jeopardising the faith and admiration of cricket fans the world over. This prosecution shows that match-fixing is not just unsportsmanlike but is a serious criminal act. "
Illegal gambling centred on India, Pakistan, the Middle East and the Far East is estimated to be worth $50bn a year, and is run by what cricket security experts describe as "mafia" figures. A number of players, most notoriously the late Hansie Cronje, who captained South Africa, have been banned by cricket authorities for fixing match results, but none has been successfully prosecuted in a criminal court.
Jurors were not told during the trial that Amir, who was 18 at the time of the scam, had pleaded guilty, nor that all three had already been banned by the International Cricket Council (ICC). In February, Butt – who was described by the ICC as the "ringmaster" – was given a 10-year ban, Asif seven and Amir five. Amir received the lesser sentence as it was considered that he had to a degree been corrupted by Butt and Mazhar Majeed, the players' British agent who was also charged alongside his clients as part of the conspiracy.
Yesterday morning, Butt's wife, Gul, gave birth to the couple's second son at home in Lahore. Hours later, her husband and Asif were found guilty on both charges by a 10-2 majority.
The case arose from a "sting" by the News Of The World newspaper reporter Mazher Mahmood. Posing as an Indian businessman with links to illegal bookmakers in the Far East, Mahmood paid £140,000 in cash to Mazhar Majeed in return for Majeed agreeing that three no-balls would be delivered at pre-arranged times in the Test.
Asif and Amir both bowled no-balls at exactly the moments agreed between Mahmood and Majeed during the first two days of the match. Pakistan lost the match, although Amir was named player of the series.
Last night, Amir apologised through his barrister, Ben Emmerson QC, who said: "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."Reuse content