Scared to speak: Amir silenced by threats to family

 

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The Independent Online

Mohammad Amir refused to give evidence during the spot-fixing trial that ended yesterday with prison sentences being imposed on himself, Salman Butt and Mohammad Asif because of "underworld threats" made against him and his family in Pakistan.

The 19-year-old bowler pleaded guilty ahead of the trial and was yesterday sentenced to six months in a young offenders' institute. Butt received 30 months, Asif a year and Mazhar Majeed, the players' British agent, two years and eight months. They are expected to serve half their jail terms. Butt is to appeal against his sentence, while Amir's and Asif's legal teams are considering whether to follow suit.

Despite being given the opportunity by the judge, Mr Justice Cooke, to take the stand during the hearing that followed the guilty verdicts for Butt and Asif, Amir maintained his silence on the scandal that has rocked cricket. As at the ICC hearing in Doha in February, where he was banned for five years by the game's governing body, it was Amir's defence team who spoke on his behalf at Southwark Crown Court.

In documents presented to the judge as to why he would not give evidence, Amir said that there had been threats made to him and his family which meant there were "significant limits" to what he could say in public. In passing sentencing yesterday, Mr Justice Cooke said: "The reality of those threats and the strength of the underworld influences who control unlawful betting abroad is shown by the supporting evidence from the Anti Corruption and Security Unit [ACSU] of the ICC." Yesterday Sir Ronnie Flanagan, the former policeman who runs the ACSU, spoke of the "evil and dangerous people behind the corrupt people".

Despite the first imprisonment of players for corruption in cricket, which the ICC hopes will act as a significant deterrent, Amir's continued reticence demonstrates the threat to the game, and players who become entangled in such activities, posed by those who control the huge illegal gambling market. Security experts estimate its worth to be $50bn a year (£31bn) and centred around India, Pakistan, Dubai and the Far East. As well as cricket, which has been dogged for a decade, football and other sports have also been targeted in recent years. Jacques Rogge, president of the International Olympic Committee, said: "The outcome was confirmation of what we know. There is endemic illegal betting in sport, not just in cricket."

Lord Condon, who established the ACSU, said: "The ICC has a big problem. It has to do more and national boards have to do more. In the past they have become complacent and they need to do more or risk expulsion from the international game."

Flanagan defended cricket but accepted that there are further issues for the sport to address in the wake of a five-week trial that has seen other players from the Pakistan team linked with "suspicious" activities and revealed the corrupting presence of shadowy figures around the team and the sport. Flanagan's unit are now likely to begin a new investigation into some of the other players named during the course of the trial.

Flanagan said: "[Corruption] is certainly not rampant in the world of cricket. It is engaged in by a tiny number of people. Sadly I wouldn't say the instances we have seen brought to justice are totally isolated either. The vast, vast majority of cricketers are not only wonderfully talented, but wonderfully ethical people. It is only a tiny proportion of people, some of whom may have a pre-deposition to it and some who succumb to the evil advances of other people."

The four men showed little reaction when they were sentenced at Southwark Crown Court yesterday, the damning final act of a conspiracy that begun with a sting by the News of the World. Majeed accepted £150,000 in cash from the undercover reporter Mazher Mahmood to arrange with the players to deliver three no-balls during the Lord's Test against England last year. "The gravamen of the offences committed by all four of you is the corruption in which you engaged in a pastime, the very name of which used to be associated with fair dealing on the sporting field. 'It's not cricket' was an adage," said Mr Justice Cooke in passing sentence.

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