Pakistan players on trial for 'spot-fixing'

Published: Wednesday, October 5, 2011, 12:41 [IST]
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Pak players on trial for spot-fixing

London, Oct 4: Banned Pakistani cricketers Salman Butt and Mohammad Asif on Tuesday appeared at a local court as their trial on charges relating to spot-fixing during a Test match against England last year began more than a year after the scandal rocked world cricket.

Former captain Butt and star bowler Mohammad Asif appeared at Southwark Crown Court on charges of conspiracy to obtain and accept corrupt payments, and conspiracy to cheat.

The charges relate to allegations of deliberately bowling no-balls during England's fourth Test against Pakistan at Lord's cricket ground in London in August 2010. The allegations were made by the News of the World tabloid, which was closed down in July.

The duo deny the charges. The offences carry maximum sentences of seven years and two years in prison respectively.

Butt stood in the dock wearing a grey pinstripe suit and white shirt while the taller Asif wore a black suit with white shirt. Neither wore a tie.

The duo are yet to speak as two hours of legal arguments ensued even as 12-member jury was sworn with a mixture of racial backgrounds and sexes. Both players were asked if they had any objection to the jury formed and they said, "No objections".

The members of the jury were asked by Justice Jeremy Cooke whether they or their families worked in the gambling industry or earned money from professional cricket or have ever been employed in journalism.

Justice Cooke informed the court that proceedings would resume tomorrow morning.

Two others - 19-year-old fast bowler Mohammad Aamer and players' agent Mazhar Majeed - have also been charged with the same offences.

In February, a separate ICC anti-corruption tribunal, which sat in Doha, found Butt, Asif and Aamer guilty. Butt was banned for 10 years, Asif for seven years and Aamer five-year penalty.

The paper's former undercover reporter Mazher Mahmood nicknamed the "fake sheikh" for sometimes wearing Arab dress learned of allegations that Majeed was involved in fixing and decided to investigate while posing as a member of a betting syndicate, Jafferjee said.

The case showed the influence of the betting industry and that the "vast" sums of money it deals with were threatening the integrity of the game, prosecutor Jafferjee said.

"That which underpinned all of this activity was the betting industry primarily the betting industry overseas, which in turn was centred in the Asian sub-continent involving India, Pakistan, Bangladesh and Sri Lanka, and the Far East."

He said the amounts of money turned over in the sub-continent were "simply breathtaking in the region of $40 and $50 billion (30 to 37 billion euros)" per year. Asif sat in court wearing a brown pinstripe suit and a white shirt, with a white folder on his lap. He listened to an Urdu-speaking translator sat to his left. Butt sat to Asif's right wearing a charcoal grey jacket and blue jeans.

Butt told British police in an interview that the timing of the no-balls exactly when Majeed told the journalist they would be bowled was "a series of freakish occurrences", the prosecutor said. Asif told detectives it was "just chance", he added.

The case started late after a new jury had to be sworn in on Wednesday when a member of the previous jury fell sick. Butt and Asif stood in court to confirm they had no objection to the jurors.

Jafferjee also sought to play down concerns about the News of the World's involvement in the case. "Whatever views one might hold about that publication," Jafferjee said, "Were this investigation not to have been permitted, the activity of 'fixing' would almost certainly have continued unabated, unaccountable and beyond the reach of the law."

He added that he had to assume that some members of the jury did not know the rules of cricket, especially the no-ball rule, and showed them a diagram featuring the popping crease line.

A no-ball is called if the bowler's front foot lands ahead of it, he said, adding: "Which is why it is so attractive to fixing, because the answer is 'whoops.'" The charges against the pair carry maximum sentences of seven years and two years in prison respectively.

At the time of the alleged offences, Butt was captain of Pakistan's Test side and had won plaudits for his leadership of the team. Asif was the team's senior pace bowler, while teenage left-arm swing bowler Aamer was regarded as one of the hottest properties in world cricket.


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