In the Media

Pakistan cricket trio convicted of conspiracy to cheat

PUBLISHED November 1, 2011

Ex-captain and star bowlers face up to seven years in jail as Lord's Test spot-fixing trial casts shadow over sport Test cricket suffered one of the darkest days in its 134-year history on Tuesday when three former Pakistan internationals were convicted in an English court of spot fixing during a match at the home of cricket, Lord's, in August last year. The former Pakistan captain Salman Butt and his opening bowlers, Mohammad Asif and Mohammad Amir, face up to seven years in jail after the trial closed at Southwark crown court. Asif, who at the time of the match against England was ranked the world's second-best bowler, Amir, who was one of the sport's most exciting prospects, and Butt had been charged with conspiracy to cheat at gambling and to accept corrupt payments. Amir had not been a defendant in the trial but, with the convictions of Butt and Asif on both charges, it is now possible to report that he entered a double guilty plea on 16 September this year, a fact of which the jury was unaware. The evidence against the two bowlers was clear: they delivered no-balls (where the bowler's foot illegally crosses a line on the pitch) at the times predicted by Butt and Amir's agent, Mazhar Majeed, in conversation with the undercover News of the World journalist, Mazhar Mahmood. Majeed believed Mahmood was an Indian match-fixer. Asif and Butt were impassive as the verdicts were read at the culmination of a trial lasting four weeks. For Butt the impact was particularly depressing. His wife gave birth to his second son in Pakistan only 30 minutes after the verdicts. That Amir was a co-conspirator will be difficult for cricket to swallow. At only 18 he already had it all: good looks, flowing locks and the cricketing potential to exceed the exploits of the Pakistan great left-arm fast bowler, Wasim Akram. The teenager had already taken 50 wickets in the fewest Tests, a distinction underscored with an inscription on the bowling honours board at Lord's. In the match that became the focus of the court case, England's batsmen were bewildered by Amir. In one 13-ball spell he accounted for Alastair Cook, Kevin Pietersen, Eoin Morgan and Paul Collingwood without conceding a run. What none in the crown could have known was that two "massive" no-balls Amir also delivered were signs that he and two of his teammates were leading double lives as bookmakers' marionettes. "People who had paid good money to see a professional and exciting game of cricket on the famous ground at Lord's had no idea that what they were watching was not a true game but one where part of the game had been pre-determined for cash," said Sally Walsh, a senior lawyer in the Crown Prosecution Service's special crime and counter-terrorism division. "Butt and Asif denied any wrongdoing but the jury has decided after hearing all the evidence that what happened on the crease that day was criminal in the true sense of the word." The court heard of a sophisticated criminal operation. The jury was told how tens of thousands of pounds was carried across borders in attache cases concealed within suitcases. It learned of "safe" telephone lines for speaking in secret, and of dealings with the Indian criminal underworld. But for all this to be of any use, there needed to be a fix on the field of play. That, it emerged during the trial, was allegedly organised by Majeed, conveyed to Butt and delivered by Amir and Asif under their captain's direction. As Mr Justice Cooke noted in his summing-up, there was an "unusual" weight of evidence in this case, since the charges arose as a result of a sting by Mahmood, posing as a match-fixer. His testimony, taken from behind identity-protecting screens and over two days of occasionally fiery exchanges with defence lawyers, was corroborated by the secret recordings he had made of meetings and telephone calls with Majeed. It meant the jury was afforded a fly-on-the-wall view of the way Majeed conducted his business. His voice was heard as he told Mahmood the precise moments when Amir and Asif would deliver three no-balls during the first two days of the Test, which began at Lord's on August 26. Majeed predicted: "Whenever Pakistan bowl these balls are definitely happening. It's going to be Amir, he's going to be bowling the third over. First ball of the third over ... whenever he goes round the wicket ? last ball of that over will be a no-ball." Then, in four words that would also condemn Asif, since his foot also overstepped the mark when he bowled the sixth ball of his own fifth over, Majeed added: "Tenth over last ball." David Kendix, the ICC's scorer at Lord's, who is also a mathematician, insurance-company risk-director and key prosecution witness, estimated that there was a 1.5 million to one chance that Majeed could innocently have alighted on his accurate prediction. The jury watched tapes of a meeting at the Copthorne Tara hotel in west Kensington, on the night before the Lord's Test, when the agent allegedly received ?140,000 in marked notes from the journalist. When police searched the hotel three days later they found 30 of the News of the World's ?50 notes in Amir's room. A briefcase hidden in a suitcase in Butt's room also contained ?2,500 in marked notes. Butt said this was a 50% downpayment on the ?5,000 he was due for the grand opening of Majeed's ice cream parlour in Tooting, south London, but his version of events was rejected by the jury. "These guys wouldn't deal with anyone," Majeed had said to Mahmood. "The only reason they deal with me is because they know my background. I've been dealing with them, the Pakistan team, for about two-and-a-half years, and we've made massive amounts of money. I deal with an Indian party and they pay me." But Majeed took an unnecessary risk, opening up to a stranger about his criminal activities in an effort to get paid twice for the same fix. "I know you, and I have met you, and I'm very good with people and instincts: I believe you are genuine," Majeed told the reporter. As Aftab Jafferjee QC, for the prosection, noted: "That, for Majeed, was to prove a costly mistake. But for others with an interest in the integrity of cricket, it proved to be good fortune." During a 13-hour stint in the witness box, longer than any the former Pakistan batsman has spent at the crease in a Test match, Butt was asked to explain a text he received from Majeed while both were at the World Twenty20 tournament in the West Indies in May 2010. It showed Majeed saying: "Other thing in 7th and 8th over one [wicket] fall in each this will only work if you score in the first two overs and no wickets." Butt is a fluent English speaker, but at that point he switched to Punjabi to speak through an interpreter. He claimed to have challenged Majeed over his message, and to have threatened to report him to cricket's anti-corruption authorities. "[Majeed] said I am just checking if you are doing something dodgy or not," claimed Butt. "I took his word for this explanation." Yet within three months of that supposed confrontation, Majeed was taking thousands of pounds from Mahmood, a man he understood to be a match-fixer, and was planning ways for Butt to demonstrate he was "in on the fix". Added to anecdotal testimony were patterns of phone calls and texts involving Butt and Majeed ? who was also in contact with bookmaking contacts in India and Dubai at the time - at key points while fixes were being arranged. These, along with the ?2,500 found in Butt's room, proved enough to convict him. Asif's no-ball came exactly as Majeed had said it would. His explanation that it was "an accident" brought on by the "sledging" he received from his own captain did not wash with the jury, and although no cash had been found in his room it was clear he had been motivated by a criminally corrupt conspiracy. At one stage during the trial, Butt was asked if he considered it a "tragedy" that a player might be corrupted. "It's the worst thing that can happen to any player of this level," he said. Butt knows the true significance of those words today. Pakistan cricket betting scandal Pakistan cricket team Cricket Gambling Crime Mat
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