Cricketers jailed for match-fixing

 

Three disgraced Pakistan cricketers were starting prison sentences tonight for their parts in a match-fixing scam that rocked world sport.

Ex-Test captain Salman Butt, 27, was jailed for two-and-a-half years for his role as the "orchestrator" of a plot to bowl deliberate no-balls in the Lord's Test against England last summer.

Former world number two Test bowler Mohammad Asif, 28, received a 12-month prison term for delivering one of the fraudulent no-balls.

Mohammad Amir, 19, who had been tipped to become one of the all-time great fast bowlers, was detained for six months in a young offenders institution after he admitted bowling two intentional no-balls at Lord's.

Mazhar Majeed, 36, the corrupt London-based sports agent at the heart of the fixing scandal, was jailed for two years and eight months.

Passing sentence at London's Southwark Crown Court, Mr Justice Cooke said the four men had damaged the integrity of cricket and betrayed all fans of the sport through their greed.

He said they engaged in corruption in a game whose very name used to be associated with "fair dealing on the sporting field", adding that future matches would forever be tainted by the fixing scandal.

The judge told the four men: "'It's not cricket' was an adage. It is the insidious effect of your actions on professional cricket and the followers of it that make the offences so serious.

"The image and integrity of what was once a game but is now a business is damaged in the eyes of all, including the many youngsters who regarded you as heroes and would have given their eye teeth to play at the levels and with the skills that you had."

He added: "Now, whenever people look back on a surprising event in a game or a surprising result, or whenever in the future there are surprising events or results, followers of the game who have paid good money to watch it live or watch it on television will be left to wonder whether there has been fixing, and whether what they have been watching is a genuine contest between bat and ball.

"What ought to be honest sporting competition may not be such at all."

The judge said he took into account the five-year bans all three players have received from the International Cricket Council (ICC) but added that only prison sentences were sufficient to deter other cricketers or agents from becoming involved in corrupt activities.

The fixing scandal emerged after an undercover News of the World reporter approached Majeed in August last year pretending to be a wealthy Indian businessman seeking major international cricketers for a tournament.

The agent, from Croydon, south London, 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 from August 26 to 29 last year.

He also claimed he had been carrying out match-fixing for two-and-a-half years and had seven players from Pakistan's national side working for him.

Mr Justice Cooke said Majeed and Butt were the "architects" of the scam, procuring the two bowlers to deliver the no-balls at Lord's.

He told Majeed: "Whether or not what this court has had to consider is just the tip of an iceberg is not for me to say and lies beyond the scope of the evidence I have heard.

"But, even allowing for your 'sales talk' to the journalist, I am sure that there was an element of truth in what you said about past fixing."

The judge said Butt - who missed the birth of his second son in Pakistan on Tuesday - was the "orchestrator" of the rigging and was responsible for involving the "impressionable" Amir, then aged just 18, in the corrupt plot.

He told the former captain: "It appears that the corruption may have been more widespread than the defendants here before me, and may have permeated the team in earlier days, though I have seen no direct evidence of that.

"If that is the case, you as captain perpetuated such an atmosphere of corruption and would be responsible for it and for the desire to use Majeed and his contacts to make money for yourself and others in the team."

Mr Justice Cooke said Amir was "unsophisticated, uneducated and impressionable" and "readily leant on by others", but said there was evidence that he also discussed rigging an earlier match with a betting contact in Pakistan.

He noted the young bowler's claim that he and his family had faced threats over his part in the fixing and said this was supported by ICC evidence about the strength of the "underworld influences" who control illegal betting overseas.

Mr Justice Cooke said there was no evidence that Asif had taken part in fixing before the Lord's game but added: "It is hard to see how this could be an isolated occurrence for you."

The judge ordered the four defendants to make contributions towards the prosecution's costs. Amir must pay £9,389, Asif £8,120, Butt £30,937 and Majeed £56,554.

The four defendants sat impassively in the dock of Southwark's Court four, which was packed with journalists and cricket fans, as they learned their fates.

They will be released on licence after serving half their prison terms.

Butt, Asif and Majeed were expected to begin their sentences at Wandsworth jail in south London while Amir was due to be sent to Feltham young offenders institution in west London.

Lawyers for Amir and Butt said they would appeal against the sentences.

PA

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