Tuesday, November 1, 2011

Pakistani cricket cheats face prison over match fixing
David Sapsted
Nov 2, 2011
LONDON // Two Pakistani cricket stars are facing possible jail sentences after being found guilty yesterday of a match-fixing plot during a Test match against England last year.

Former captain Salman Butt and fast bowler Mohammad Asif were both found guilty of conspiring to cheat during the match at Lord's in August, 2010, by arranging to bowl deliberate "no balls" at specific times as part of a betting scam.

Butt, 27, was also found guilty of accepting corrupt payments on the fourth day of deliberations by a jury at Southwark Crown Court in London.

After further deliberation, they returned a guilty verdict against Asif, 28, on the same charge.

The jurors at the month-long trial had not been told that Pakistan fast bowler Mohammad Amir, 19, had already pleaded guilty to match fixing, along with Mazhar Majeed, 36, the players' agent in the UK.

All will be sentenced later this week. The maximum penalty for accepting corrupt payments is seven years in prison while the conspiracy charge carries a maximum of two years.

The courts heard that the scandal went to the heart of international cricket and involved players being paid to bowl "no balls" so that gamblers could make millions on the "spot betting" market - which involves betting on specific incidents during a game - that flourishes on the Indian sub-continent.

An undercover reporter from the now-defunct News of the World tabloid exposed the scam when, posing as a representative of an Indian betting syndicate, he secretly recorded Majeed accepting £150,000 (Dh878,000) in cash to get the players to bowl the three "no balls" at specific moments. Two were to be delivered by Amir, one by Asif.

When the match was played, the "no balls" were delivered at the pre-arranged times. Experts told the trial that the chance of this happening by coincidence was more than a million to one.

Majeed boasted that he had seven Pakistani Test players on his payroll and was recorded telling an unknown associate in a phone call to India that, for about £1 million he could fix the result of a five-day international.

He also claimed that he had made "masses and masses of money" from more than two years of match fixing.

Both Butt and Asif denied the charges. Butt said that Majeed had raised the subject of match fixing with him but said he had turned him down. He explained away the several thousand pounds in marked, News of the World money found in his hotel bedroom as being payment from Majeed for marketing deals.

Asif also said he knew nothing about match fixing and said that he had only bowled his "no ball" at the pre-arranged moment because Butt had sworn at him just as he was about to deliver the ball.

But prosecutor Aftab Jafferjee told the jury that both Butt and Asif had accepted the bribes and, in doing so, had betrayed their team, the Pakistan Cricket Board and the sport itself.

He described the case as revealing "a depressing tale of rampant corruption at the heart of international cricket".

After the verdicts, Jonathan Agnew, the veteran BBC cricket correspondent whose Test match radio broadcasts are heard round the world, commented: "This is momentous - not merely for cricket, but for all sport. Corruption is the greatest threat to the integrity of sport."

Former Pakistan cricket captain Asif Iqbal described it as a "sad day for cricket" while former England fast bowler Angus Fraser told the BBC: "It shows young cricketers that there is a consequence to their behaviour.

"The International Cricket Council has got to support the players, see these signs and help them out of predicaments, but also see (that) if players do commit these offences they are punished severely," he said.

In February, the International Cricket Council held its own investigation into the scam and found all three players guilty of corruption. They were suspended from all cricket for up to five years.

Butt and Asif showed no emotion when the guilty verdicts were returned yesterday, although the former's thoughts might well have been with his wife, Gul, in Pakistan, where she was due to give birth yesterday. Word was later received in court that she had given birth in Lahore to a baby boy.

"It is a day of sadness and happiness for us," Butt's father, Zulfiqar Butt, told Reuters. "We are shocked by this verdict and will fight to the end. But at the same time God has given us a new life."   dsapsted@thenational.ae


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