Pakistan trio questioned by police – but diplomat insists they are innocent

High Commissioner brands cricket authorities 'unhelpful' after players are banned pending outcome of investigation
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The Independent Online

Three pakistan cricketers at the centre of match-fixing allegations were questioned under caution by detectives yesterday amid an emerging diplomatic row over their behaviour.

Police interviewed separately the Test captain of the national side, Salman Butt, and the bowlers Mohammad Asif and Mohammad Aamer. They were later released without charge or condition.

Detectives asked Mr Aamer about a text saying "Shall I do it or not?" that he allegedly sent, according to The Daily Telegraph , just a few hours before the apparently pre-arranged no-balls, to the agent who had earlier been filmed claiming to be able to fix such events.

Police are said to have found £50,000 in Mr Butt's hotel room and they are now checking if the banknotes were the same ones handed over during the tabloid snare. It is believed Mr Butt explained the money was part of his sister's dowry.

All three players have been charged by the International Cricket Council (ICC) with "various offences" under its anti-corruption code and provisionally banned. These charges follow the Pakistan Cricket Board's (PCB) failure to bring any of their own against the men, who played in the Fourth Test against England on Sunday after a newspaper alleged they were prepared to harm their team by bowling no-balls for a betting syndicate in return for cash. But the PCB has withdrawn them from the squad for a limited-overs series against England because of the "mental torture" they have endured.

Yesterday, as he criticised the players' treatment by the authorities, Pakistan's most senior diplomat in Britain accused the ICC of "playing to the public gallery". Wajid Hasan, the high commissioner, said he believed the trio played no part in an alleged plot during the Lord's defeat, which led to England winning the series 3-1.

The News of the World reported that one of its reporters, working under cover, handed over £150,000 to a middleman to arrange the no-balls during specific periods of the match.

Mr Hasan said: "I met the cricketers for two hours, cross-questioned them, got to the bottom of it and concluded that they were innocent and that's what I said to the media."

Of the ICC, he told BBC Radio 4's Today programme: "They have done the wrong thing. When there's a live police inquiry, this takes precedence over both the ICC, civil or regulatory investigations and any disciplinary investigations. To take action now is unhelpful, premature and unnecessary considering the players had already voluntarily withdrawn from playing."

Aamer, 18, is understood to have arrived at Kilburn police station in north-west London yesterday morning. Asif was seen entering the same station in the afternoon. Police first questioned the three players and confiscated their mobile phones in their hotel at the weekend. A cricket agent who owns Croydon Athletic Football Club, Mazhar Majeed, 35, was arrested by detectives at the weekend and later released on police bail.

At a Lord's press conference, the ICC's chief executive, Haroon Lorgat, sad he did not believe the case was "the tip of the iceberg". "We don't believe this is widespread," he said. He rebutted Pakistan's criticism of the ICC's treatment of the men.

"We promised to be decisive, we have had a week in which to properly conduct due diligence, and that is the point at which we were when we charged three players and provisionally suspended them," he said.

Sir Ronnie Flanagan – the former chief constable of the police in Northern Ireland, who was appointed the head of the ICC's anti-corruption unit in May – also denied that gambling scams were widespread, but revealed that his anti-corruption unit had stopped instances of "these types of actions".

He said: "If these charges are proven, I congratulate the News of the World. They were brought to light in ways the ICC can't engage in; ways the ICC would not like to engage in."

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