Pakistan cricketers guilty of betting scam

Salman Butt (left) and Mohammad Asif Salman Butt (left) and Mohammad Asif were on trial at Southwark Crown Court

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Pakistan cricketers Salman Butt and Mohammad Asif have been found guilty of their part in a "spot-fixing" scam after a trial at Southwark Crown Court.

Former captain Butt, 27, and fast bowler Asif, 28, were both found guilty of conspiracy to cheat and conspiracy to accept corrupt payments.

They plotted to deliberately bowl no-balls during a Lord's Test match against England last summer.

Another bowler, Mohammad Amir, admitted the charges prior to the trial.

The guilty pleas by the bowler, who was 18 when the scam took place, could not be reported before.

The jury was not told of these pleas.

BBC sport news correspondent James Pearce says all three are facing the prospect of jail terms.

Analysis

The conspiracy theories are once again being aired here.

"The West just wants to destroy the image of Pakistan," says Zahim, a cricket fan eating at a restaurant outside Lahore's Gaddafi Stadium.

"We need to get to the real truth."

In the coming days many others, including some in the media, will say they too feel Pakistani cricketers have been unfairly victimised.

But when pushed, most will acknowledge that some of their former heroes must have been engaged in corruption.

"This involvement in betting has blackened Pakistan's name," Najam, another fan, tells me.

"They also put the whole nation through the shock. They must be punished and punished severely."

Conspiracy to accept corrupt payments carries a maximum prison term of seven years.

Our correspondent also says the case "raises serious questions about the integrity of Test cricket".

A statement was read out by Amir's lawyer at the start of the trial, before any evidence had been heard.

He said: "Mohammad Amir accepts full responsibility for deliberately bowling two no-balls and, in due course, you will hear how this vulnerable 18-year-old boy was subjected to extreme pressure from those on whom he should have been able to rely.

"He recognises the damage his actions have caused Pakistan cricket."

Spot-betting involves gamblers staking money on the minutiae of sporting encounters such as the exact timing of the first throw-in during a football match or, as in this case, when a no-ball will be bowled.

After deliberating for nearly 17 hours, the jury unanimously convicted Butt and Asif of conspiracy to cheat.

Our correspondent said Butt's wife, Gul Hassan, had given birth to a baby boy one hour before he was found guilty.

The BBC's Aleem Maqbool, in Lahore, said the story was leading the national news in Pakistan and the four-week trial had been closely followed in the country.

Mohammad Amir Pakistan bowler Mohammad Amir pleaded guilty before the trial began

The judge, Mr Justice Cooke, extended bail for Butt and Asif until sentencing later this week.

'Rampant corruption'

They were charged after a tabloid newspaper alleged they took bribes to bowl deliberate no-balls.

The court heard the players, along with fast bowler Amir, conspired with UK-based sports agent Mazhar Majeed, 36, to fix parts of the Lord's Test last August.

Three intentional no-balls were delivered during the match between Pakistan and England from 26 to 29 August last year.

Prosecutors said Butt and Asif had been motivated by greed to "contaminate" a match watched by millions of people and "betray" their team, the Pakistan Cricket Board and the sport itself.

Aftab Jafferjee QC, for the prosecution, said the case "revealed a depressing tale of rampant corruption at the heart of international cricket".

Following the verdicts, Haroon Lorgat - chief executive of the International Cricket Council, the sport's governing body - issued a statement.

In it, he said: "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."

He added that the ICC had a zero-tolerance attitude towards corruption and would use everything within its power to ensure that any suggestion of corrupt activity within cricket was "comprehensively investigated and, where appropriate, robustly prosecuted".

Sally Walsh, of the Crown Prosecution Service (CPS), said the players had "brought shame on the cricket world" through their actions and "jeopardised the faith and admiration of cricket fans the world over".

She said their actions "went against everything expected of someone in their position and they failed to take into account their fans of all ages and nationalities when deciding to abandon the values of sportsmanship so unconditionally".

What is a no-ball?

  • A penalty against the fielding team awarded by the umpire, usually resulting from an unlawful delivery by a bowler
  • Results in one run being added to the batting team's score, and an additional ball must be bowled
  • Can result from dangerous delivery, known as a "beamer"
  • More commonly called if the bowler delivers the ball without some part of the front foot either grounded or in the air behind the "popping crease", a line marked on the pitch

The senior lawyer added: "The jury has decided, after hearing all of the evidence, that what happened at the crease that day was criminal in the true sense of the word."

DCS Matt Horne, of the Metropolitan Police, said what had happened was "cheating, pure and simple".

"I think we all look forward to sport being played in its truest spirit as we go forward with these types of issues," he added.

DCS Horne also acknowledged the investigative journalism that led to the trial.

Mazher Mahmood, the former News of the World journalist who uncovered the betting scam, said: "It is a sad day for cricket but a good day for investigative journalism."

He said he hoped cricketing authorities would take the opportunity to tackle illegal gambling in the sport and do everything in their power to regain the cricket fans.

Meanwhile, former Pakistan cricket captain Asif Iqbal told BBC 5Live it was a "sad day for cricket" and said the case would send out a "huge message".

Angus Fraser, a former England fast bowler, said it could be a "watershed" for the game.

"It shows young cricketers that there is a consequence to their behaviour. In the past players have been banned and then they have come back," he told BBC 5Live.

"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."

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