Butt and Asif 'part of rampant corruption at heart of cricket'

Spot-fixing trial hears claims of betrayal, cash, greed and $50bn gambling markets
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The Independent Online

Former Pakistan cricket 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 is charged with conspiracy to obtain and accept corrupt payments and conspiracy to cheat, which carry maximum sentences of seven and two years imprisonment respectively. The charges centre on alleged spot-fixing – deliberately bowling no-balls at pre-arranged moments – in the course of the fourth Test against England last year. It is claimed £140,000 was paid in cash in 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, opened the Crown's case and claimed a "conspiracy" between Butt, two of the fast bowlers in his team, Asif and Mohammad Amir, and Butt's agent, Mazhar Majeed, surrounding the Lord's Test, the last in a series the home side were to win 3-1. Mr Jafferjee said: "Those involved lent themselves willingly, and for financial gain, to fix... aspects within each match on a day-by-day basis."

Mr Jafferjee suggested the case has its root in the lucrative multi-billion pound Far Eastern and Asian illegal gambling markets. They are conservatively estimated to be worth $50bn a year – controlled by "influential but shadowy figures in Dubai, Mumbai, Karachi and London" – with the volume of betting on a Twenty20 match in Mumbai capable of generating a turnover of $200m per match. "Inside information is thus a hugely valuable commodity," said Mr Jafferjee, who was later to allege that Majeed priced the fixing of a Test match at £1m and a Twenty20 game at £400,000.

The alleged conspiracy was exposed by the now defunct News of the World and its reporter Mazhar Mahmood, the so-called "fake sheikh", although in this case he became a fake Indian businessman called Mohsin Khan.

Majeed, a British based agent who then also owned Croydon Athletic Football Club and a chain of ice cream parlours called "Afters", claimed to Mahmood that he controlled six players in the Pakistan team. As well as being Butt's agent, Majeed also said he managed Asif, Amir, Kamran Akmal and his brother Umar.

The prosecution allege that Butt, as captain, was central to the conspiracy to carry out Majeed's instructions – Majeed and his backers were anxious that Pakistan actually prospered on the pitch so Butt's position as captain would not be under threat – but the two fast bowlers, and two of the team's key players, "were willing participants so that they could all profit – those lower down the ladder probably profiting less than those at the top".

Mr Jafferjee said: "The activity of these four men not only contaminated the games which took place... but their activity represents a betrayal by them of their own team, their own board of cricket, and most damaging of all a betrayal of the sport of cricket itself – and all for greed."

Butt, wearing a grey jacket and faded blue jeans, sat in the dock occasionally shaking his head as the prosecution outlined the case against him and Asif, who sat one seat removed from his former captain and dressed in a brown suit. It was Butt's appointment as captain in July last year that was key to the unfolding conspiracy, assert the prosecution, as that saw him strengthen his position within the team and allowed him to "direct activity on the field both legitimate and corrupt". Mr Jafferjee said: "Merely 'fixing' with a bowler for a no-ball to be bowled during a certain over, would be devoid of certainty unless the captain was involved."

Butt's defence to the claim that he orchestrated the delivery of three no-balls during the Lord's Test was that it was a number of "freakish occurrences".

It is alleged that Asif was able to use his experience – he had been playing international cricket for five years – to ensure that when he delivered the required no-ball his foot was a matter of inches over the line – that was "guile that comes with experience". Asif says it was "chance".

The jury was told that the first meeting between Mahmood and Majeed took place in a restaurant at the Hilton hotel in London on 16 August around 6pm. The pair discussed the players Majeed managed and their "need to make money". Majeed claimed that the payment they received for playing the game was derisory compared to what their English counterparts received. When Mahmood suggested that they required at least three players on-side, Majeed replied "Boss, I've got six already".

The night before the penultimate Test at The Oval, Amir texted a number in Pakistan. "For how much and what needs to be done?" The texts have been recovered with the help of Canadian police who have developed software to recover deleted texts. The exchange ended around 10.45pm with Amir texting in Urdu "So in first three [overs], bowl however you want, and in the last 2, do eight runs?" The prosecution claim this is him repeating the instruction he had been given previously. Later, on 28 August after the police had become involved, Amir was to text 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 in London.

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. Mahmood, with the hidden camera in mind, insisted Majeed count it. Majeed described it as a "taster" – he would arrange two no-balls to be bowled the following day in return for £20,000. Majeed told Mahmood: "I've been doing this constantly and for the next month you are going to see how constant it is." Later he 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.

Butt and Asif: Life and times

Salman Butt (33 Tests, 1889 runs, three centuries, average 30.46)

7 October 1984 Born in Lahore.

3 September 2003 Butt makes his Test debut against Bangladesh aged 18.

2 January 2005 Scores his first Test century, against Australia at the SCG.

16 January 2010 Another century in Australia, this time in a heavy defeat in Hobart.

17 July 2010 Replaces Shahid Afridi as Test captain.

23 July 2010 In his first game in charge, he captains Pakistan to a three-wicket win over Australia at Headingley.

Mohammad Asif (23 Tests, 106 wickets, seven 5-wicket hauls, average 24.36)

20 December 1982 Born in Sheikhupura.

2 January 2005 Test debut at the SCG.

5 April 2006 Records figures of 11 for 69 in a Pakistani victory in Kandy.

6 December 2009 Match figures of 9 for 107 help pakistan to a 141-run Test victory over New Zealand in Wellington.

3 January 2010 Takes 6 for 41 as Pakistan bowl Australia out for 127 on the opening day at Sydney.

25 July 2010 Impressive performances against Australia propel him to second in the Test bowling rankings.