Three Pakistan cricketers face up to seven years in jail after being convicted of accepting corrupt payments to cheat in a Test against England at Lord’s last year.
Former captain Salman Butt, 27, and fast bowler Mohammad Asif, 29, were guilty of all charges laid against them, a jury at London’s Southwark Crown Court decided after a three-week trial. Another bowler, Mohammad Amir, and agent Mazher Majeed have pleaded guilty in the case. A sentencing hearing began today and will resume tomorrow at 10 a.m.
They were caught in an undercover sting by defunct U.K. tabloid The News of the World for plotting to bowl no-balls during the match. The sport has battled corruption since the 1990s, when scandals tainted the careers of the former captains of South Africa and India, Hansie Cronje and Mohammad Azharuddin. The Pakistani cricketers were accused of receiving some of the 150,000 pounds ($240,000) the newspaper gave to Majeed, Butt’s agent,to fix portions of the match.
“Through their actions they brought shame on the cricketing world, jeopardizing the faith and admiration of cricket fans the world over,” Sally Walsh, a lawyer for the U.K.’s Crown Prosecution Service said. “This prosecution shows that match fixing is not just unsportsmanlike but is a serious criminal act.”
Journalist Mazher Mahmood posed as a wealthy Indian businessman interested in fixing cricket matches. He gave money to Majeed, who then asked Butt to arrange for Asif and Amir to bowl no-balls at pre-determined moments in the fourth Test with England. Amir, 19, bowled two no-balls and Asif bowled one at exactly the moments specified. The payment was to cover future bets as well, the prosecution said. Majeed was also part of the conspiracy, judge Jeremy Cooke told the jury.
The News of the World reported the story midway through the match. Amir, the youngest cricketer to take 50 Test wickets, bowled his first no-ball in the middle of the best spell of his career. He was later named man of the series, even though England took the contest 3-1.
News Corp. shuttered The News of the World earlier this year after the paper was found to have gotten stories by hacking mobile phones.
“It’s fair to say we wouldn’t be here without investigative journalism,” Detective Chief Superintendent Matthew Horne told reporters after the trial.
Lawyers for Butt and Asif declined to comment after the verdicts and both players showed little emotion when they were delivered. Butt’s wife gave birth to a boy in Pakistan an hour before the jury delivered its verdict. He left the court pulling a red Ferrari suitcase and wearing headphones as a phalanx of photographers and cameramen surrounded him as he took a seat in black London taxi.
The prosecution’s evidence includes secretly videotaped conversations between the journalist and Majeed, transcripts of text messages between the players and Majeed recovered by Canada’s Mounted Police and guidance from statisticians. The Mounties involvement came as phones used by the players included Blackberrys made by Canada-based Research In Motion Ltd.
Benedict Bermange, a statistician used by broadcaster Sky Sports who was present at Lord’s when the alleged incidents took place, told the jury one of Amir’s no-balls was the “largest breach of the front foot law he’d ever seen,” Cooke said. Bermange also said the chance of predicting the exact points when Asif and Amir would bowl three no-balls at Lord’s was about 1 in 840,000.
Police found 2,500 pounds in cash that matched the serial numbers of the money paid to Majeed when they searched Butt’s hotel room on Aug. 28, 2010. The former team captain said he’d been given the money as part payment of a 5,000-pound fee for appearing at the opening of a South London ice cream parlor for Majeed.
Amir reached a career-high of eighth in the Test cricket bowling rankings following the Lord’s match. He pleaded guilty in September this year, saying he’d been put under “extreme pressure” by other team members.
“This vulnerable 18-year-old boy, as he was then, was subjected to extreme pressure from those upon whom he should have been able to rely,” his lawyer, Ben Emerson, said at the time. “He recognized the damage he has caused Pakistan cricket and he wants to do his best to put this right.”
In February, Butt, Asif and Amir were suspended from the game for violating the International Cricket Council’s anti-corruption code. Horne said it was up to sports governing bodies to tackle corruption. The police will share evidence from their case with the ICC in the coming weeks.
Six Other Players
“We hope that this verdict is seen as a further warning to any individual who might, for whatever reason, be tempted to engage in corrupt activity within our sport,” ICC chief executive officer Haroon Lorgat said in a statement.
As well as the players implicated in the Lord’s Test, the court heard recordings of Majeed in which he said he controlled six other players who were touring England.
Ravi Sawani, the former chief investigator at the ICC’s anti-corruption and security unit, said in evidence that the illegal gambling market for cricket on the Asian subcontinent is worth 40 billion to 50 billion pounds and bets on specific incidents could be made up to 10 seconds before they were due to take place.
Accepting corrupt payments carries a maximum sentence of seven years, while those guilty of cheating face up to two years in prison.