LONDON: Pakistan cricketers Salman Butt and Mohammad Asif were found guilty Tuesday of fixing parts of a Test against England in a case that has thrown the credibility of the international game into doubt.
Former Test captain Butt, 27, and fast bowler Asif, 28, face jail after a court in London convicted them of deliberately bowling three no-balls during the Lord’s Test in August 2010 as part of a “spot-fixing” betting scam.
The verdicts are a scalp from beyond the grave for Britain’s News of the World tabloid, which uncovered the conspiracy but was shut down by owner Rupert Murdoch this year amid a scandal over phone-hacking.
Prosecutors alleged Butt and Asif conspired with British agent Mazher Majeed and Pakistan fast bowler Mohammad Aamer to bowl the no-balls as part of a plot that revealed “rampant corruption” at the heart of international cricket.
Butt faces up to seven years in prison jail after the jury at Southwark Crown Court convicted him of conspiracy to obtain or accept corrupt payments, and conspiracy to cheat at gambling.
Asif was found guilty of conspiring to accept corrupt payments in a “spot-fixing” betting scam. The 28-year-old was also found guilty by the jury at Southwark Crown Court on a separate count of conspiring to cheat at gambling. The corrupt payment charge carries a maximum sentence of seven years’ imprisonment.
They are expected to be sentenced later this week.
Butt and Asif had pleaded not guilty and they sat in silence in the dock as the jury delivered their verdicts, after spending nearly 17 hours in deliberations over four days.
Majeed, 36, and Aamer, 19, were also charged with the same offences but were not standing trial alongside Butt and Asif.
Mohammad Aamer pleaded guilty to involvement in a spot-fixing betting scam before the trial of his teammates. Aamer pleaded guilty to conspiracy to cheat and conspiracy to accept corrupt payments at a pre-trial hearing on September 16.
In a further twist, Butt’s wife gave birth to a baby boy just 30 minutes before the verdict was delivered, his father said by telephone from Pakistan’s eastern city of Lahore. Butt already has one daughter.
During the three-week trial the jury heard that vast sums of money could be made by rigging games for betting syndicates, particularly in South Asia, and that the problem was theatening the game of cricket.
Mazher Mahmood, News of the World’s former investigations editor, known as the “fake sheikh” for his disguises, told the court he had approached Majeed pretending to be an Indian businessman.
Majeed claimed he had at least six Pakistani players working for him and that it would cost between £50,000 and £80,000 ($78,000 and $125,000) to fix a “bracket”, where bets are made on incidents during a given period of play.
But the cost of rigging a whole result was far more, at £400,000 for a Twenty20, £450,000 for a one-day international, and £1 million for Test matches, Majeed allegedly told the reporter.
The agent was secretly filmed accepting £150,000 in cash from the journalist as part of an arrangement to bowl the no-balls, and recorded allegedly making arrangements with Butt for the no balls.
Butt told the court he had ignored his agent’s requests to fix games and had no knowledge of the plan to bowl no balls, while admitting that he had failed in his duty to inform cricketing authorities of Majeed’s approach.
Asif meanwhile said he had bowled a no ball at the exact time the agent had predicted to the News of the World journalist because Butt had told him to run faster moments before his delivery.
The team’s manager during the fateful tour of England when the scam was uncovered, Yawar Saeed, said Pakistan cricket had been badly tarnished by the case.
“I feel very sad because I tried my level best to tell them to keep away from notorious people. They should have understood that and they committed a blunder, and when you commit a blunder, you are punished,” Saeed said.
“I’m also sad because the country’s name has been dragged into this entire controversy. Pakistan is known for its talented players but this case has stained the country’s image badly,” he added.
The case is the worst in international cricket since that of South Africa’s Hansie Cronje a decade ago.
Cronje was banned for life in 2000 after it was revealed he accepted money from bookmakers in a bid to influence the course of games as well as trying to corrupt his team-mates. He died in a plane crash in 2002