Three Pakistani cricketers to face 'cheat' charges

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The Independent Online

Three Pakistani cricketers and an agent will be charged with conspiring to cheat bookmakers over the match-fixing scandal, the Crown Prosecution Service said today.

Captain Salman Butt, Mohammad Asif and Mohammad Aamer will face court over their actions during a Test match at Lord's last August.

They were questioned by Scotland Yard detectives over claims they accepted cash to deliberately bowl no-balls.

Agent Mazhar Majeed, accused of accepting £150,000 to fix the actions of players, was also charged with conspiracy to cheat bookmakers.

The Crown Prosecution Service (CPS) said all four men have also been charged with conspiracy to obtain and accept corrupt payments.

Majeed will appear before City of Westminster Magistrates' court on March 17. Summonses for the three players have been issued for the same date.

Simon Clements, of the CPS, said: "These charges relate to allegations that Mr Majeed accepted money from a third party to arrange for the players to bowl 'no balls' on August 26 and 27, 2010, during Pakistan's Fourth Test at Lord's Cricket Ground in London.

"Mr Majeed has been summonsed to appear for a first hearing at City of Westminster Magistrates' Court on 17 March.

"Summonses for the same court date have been issued for the three players and they have been asked to return to this country voluntarily, as they agreed to do in September last year. Their extradition will be sought should they fail to return.

"The Crown Prosecution Service has been working closely with the Metropolitan Police Service since the allegations of match-fixing became public on August 29 2010.

"We received a full file of evidence on December 7 2010, and we are satisfied there is sufficient evidence for a realistic prospect of conviction and it is in the public interest to prosecute.

"I would remind everyone that these men are entitled to a fair trial and should be regarded as innocent of these charges unless it is proven otherwise in court.

"The International Cricket Council tribunal is due to announce its decision tomorrow, but criminal proceedings are active now.

"It is extremely important that nothing should be reported which could prejudice the trial."

Accepting corrupt payments is an offence under the Prevention of Corruption Act 1906 and carries a maximum sentence of seven years' imprisonment and an unlimited fine.

Cheating is an offence contrary to Section 42 of the Gambling Act 2005. It carries a maximum sentence of two years' imprisonment and an unlimited fine.

Senior lawyers at the Crown Prosecution Service have been considering evidence that the men conspired to cheat bookmakers for several months.

A fifth man, player Wahab Riaz, was also interviewed under caution but it is understood prosecutors did not consider bringing charges against him.

The reputation of the sport was engulfed in controversy over claims of corruption after allegations surfaced in the News of the World newspaper.

Majeed is accused of accepting cash to ask players to deliberately bowl no-balls during their tour of England.

Butt, Asif and Aamer were suspended by the International Cricket Council (ICC) and the Pakistan Cricket Board but denied wrongdoing. Riaz was not suspended.

The ICC's code of conduct commission rejected appeals by Butt and Aamer against their suspensions last November.

A three-man tribunal, which met for six days in January, will announce their decision on whether the players will face sanctions in Doha tomorrow.

The timing and severity of the decision comes at a crucial time as the World Cup in South Asia begins in a fortnight.

The world governing body's code of conduct carries a minimum five-year ban if corruption charges are proved. The maximum punishment is a lifetime ban.

A News of the World spokeswoman welcomed news of the charges.

She said: "Every true cricket fan will want to see justice served.

"We will continue to assist the police with their inquiries and look forward to presenting our extensive dossier of evidence in open court."

A Metropolitan Police spokesman said investigators have been informed of the decision and urged the media not to publish anything which could prejudice a trial.

Majeed, 35, of Oaks Road, Croydon, south London, is the owner of Croydon Athletic Football Club. Last year, officials said they were "devastated and appalled" by the claims.