Cricket: Pakistan players guilty in fixing scandal

1st November 2011, Comments 0 comments

Pakistan cricketers Salman Butt and Mohammad Asif were on Tuesday found guilty of fixing parts of a Test match against England in a case that has thrown the credibility of the international game into doubt.

After the verdicts it was revealed that young Pakistan bowler Mohammad Aamer pleaded guilty to the same charges two weeks before former captain Butt and paceman Asif went on trial at Southwark Crown Court in London.

The three players now face up to seven years in jail for their part in the deliberate bowling of three no-balls during the Lord's Test in August 2010 as part of a "spot-fixing" betting scam uncovered by the now-defunct News of the World tabloid.

Prosecutors said Butt, Asif and Aamer conspired with British agent Mazher Majeed to bowl the no-balls as part of a plot that revealed "rampant corruption" at the heart of international cricket.

Butt, 27, and Asif, 28, were each convicted of conspiracy to obtain or accept corrupt payments, and conspiracy to cheat at gambling. They had denied the charges.

The jury deliberated for nearly 17 hours to reach verdicts on both charges against Butt and the cheating charge against Asif, then needed a further three hours to convict Asif on the corrupt payments charge.

The pair and Aamer were expected to be sentenced later this week.

The International Cricket Council has already banned Butt for 10 years with five suspended, Asif for seven years with two suspended, and Aamer, 19, for five years straight after finding them guilty of corruption in February.

In a twist for Butt, his wife gave birth to a baby boy just 30 minutes before the verdict was delivered, his father said by telephone from Pakistan's eastern city of Lahore. Butt already has one daughter.

"It's a matter of great grief for us that Butt has been found guilty. We hope the Almighty will bring him out of this trouble because these are very difficult times for him and the family," Zulfiqar Butt told AFP.

During the three-week trial the jury heard that vast sums of money could be made by rigging games for betting syndicates, particularly in South Asia, and that the problem was threatening the game of cricket.

Mazher Mahmood, News of the World's former investigations editor, known as the "fake sheikh" for his disguises, told the court he had approached Majeed pretending to be an Indian businessman.

Majeed, 36, has also been charged with the same offences but was not standing trial.

Majeed claimed he had at least six Pakistani players working for him and that it would cost between £50,000 and £80,000 ($78,000 and $125,000) to fix a "bracket", where bets are made on incidents during a given period of play, according to Mahmood's evidence to the court.

But the cost of rigging a whole result was far more, at £400,000 for a Twenty20, £450,000 for a one-day international, and £1 million for Test matches, Majeed allegedly told the reporter.

The agent was secretly filmed accepting £150,000 in cash from the journalist as part of an arrangement to bowl the no-balls, and recorded making arrangements with Butt for the no balls.

Butt told the court he had ignored his agent's alleged requests to fix matches and had no knowledge of the plan to bowl no balls, while admitting that he had failed in his duty to inform cricketing authorities of Majeed's approach.

The verdict was a scalp from beyond the grave for the News of the World, which was shut down by owner Rupert Murdoch in July due to a scandal over the illegal hacking of voicemails.

News International, publishers of the News of the World, welcomed the convictions and said they reflected well on Mahmood, who now works for the Murdoch-owned newspaper The Sunday Times.

"The investigation which exposed match fixing by Pakistani cricketers astonished the world and is to the credit of Mazher Mahmood who led the investigation for the News of the World," it said.

Yawar Saeed, the Pakistan team's manager during the fateful tour of England when the scam was uncovered, said the case had "stained" Pakistan's image.

"I feel very sad because I tried my level best to tell them to keep away from notorious people. They should have understood that and they committed a blunder, and when you commit a blunder, you are punished," he told AFP.

© 2011 AFP

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