Pakistan cricket stars accused of match-fixing

Three no-balls – just as predicted – after newspaper pays betting ring £150,000
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The Independent Online

The manager of Pakistan's cricket team has been speaking to Scotland Yard after squad members, including the captain, were accused of rigging the Lord's Test match against England in a multi-million pound betting scam, following a Sunday newspaper sting.

Bowlers Mohammad Aamer and Mohammad Asif deliberately bowled three no-balls, said the News of the World, which had paid the betting ring's fixer £150,000 for detailed information about how the match would progress. The paper's reporters filmed meetings with London-based middleman Mazhar Majeed, who told them in exactly which overs of the Fourth Test the no-balls would be delivered. "This is no coincidence," Mr Majeed told them as the action developed as he had described.

The match, which began on Thursday, was on a knife edge as England held a slender 2-1 lead in the series. Pakistan collapsed, bowled out for 74 in their first innings and were forced to follow on.

Mr Majeed claimed that Pakistan's captain, Salman Butt, was the ringleader of the match-fixing scam and wicket-keeper Kamran Akmal was also in the know, the newspaper said.

Mr Majeed boasted of having seven cricketers in his group, who had pocketed such huge sums from betting syndicates and bookmakers that he had opened Swiss bank accounts for them.

Pakistan's team manager, Yawar Saeed, said last night: "I can confirm that we are aware of the allegations and Scotland Yard police are with us now at the hotel and we are helping them with their enquiries. This is as much as I can say at the moment."

The England team was understood to be aware of the claims but was expecting play to go ahead today.

The News of the World said it launched its sting operation, led by its investigations editor, Mazher Mahmood, after a strong tip-off a fortnight ago. Posing as frontmen for a Far Eastern gambling cartel, undercover reporters bought their "entry ticket" to Mr Majeed's scam with a £10,000 deposit, followed by a meeting in a London hotel room on Wednesday at which they handed over the balance of £140,000 in £50 notes.

As a "taster" of the kind of information he could supply, Mr Majeed, a 35-year-old property magnate and a well-known face at cricket grounds around the world, told them: "I'm going to give you three no-balls to prove to you firstly that this is what's happening. They've all been organised, okay? I'm telling you, if you play this right you're going to make a lot of money, believe me."

He told them they could make "absolutely millions, millions" by buying his information on matches for up to £450,000 a time, then betting on the outcome. He dealt mainly with an Indian group, but would also supply information to the bogus gamblers, he said.

At earlier meetings, Mr Majeed claimed to "manage" 10 players within the Pakistani cricket team and told the reporters: "These guys won't deal with just anybody. The only reason they'll deal with me is because they know I'm professional. I've been doing it with them, the Pakistani team, for about two and a half years. And we've made masses and masses of money.

"The players would never tell anybody else. They were the ones who approached me. This is the beauty of it." He later added: "These poor boys need to. They're paid peanuts," and bragged that some of Pakistan's other games against England this summer were already lined up for rigging.

The scam worked because cricket bets were often placed on events within a group of 10 overs, Mr Majeed told the paper. If a player scored well in the first three overs, punters would bet on that continuing. Anyone who knew what was going to happen could, therefore, cash in if a player stopped scoring, slowed down, bowled no-balls or gave away runs. Signals such as changing gloves would indicate the scam was on.

The Pakistani side has been dogged by match-fixing allegations since the 1990s. In May, the International Cricket Council's anti-corruption unit examined the team's poor showing against Australia. The Pakistani cricket board banned former captain Younus Khan and tour captain Mohammad Yousuf indefinitely.

A Metropolitan Police spokesman said: "Following information received from the News of the World, we have today arrested a 35-year-old man on suspicion of conspiracy to defraud bookmakers."