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Pakistan cricketers guilty of corruption

By Richard Allen Greene, CNN
updated 4:42 PM EDT, Tue November 1, 2011
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • The outcome is a credit to reporting by News of the World, its parent firm says
  • Salman Butt and Mohammad Asif are guilty of plotting to cheat and take bribes
  • Mohammad Amir earlier pleaded guilty to the same charges
  • The Asian betting market is worth up to $50B a year, a cricket official estimates

London (CNN) -- Two top international cricket players from Pakistan were found guilty Tuesday of plotting to cheat and to take bribes in a major match against England last summer.

Salman Butt and Mohammad Asif could potentially go to prison for up to seven years for the criminal offenses, part of a scandal that rocked the international sport.

A third player, Mohammad Amir, pleaded guilty to the same charges. The court barred the press from reporting his plea until the jury reached their verdict on Butt and Asif, for fear of affecting the deliberations.

They are due to be sentenced on Wednesday.

"This is a case of cheating, pure and simple," Metropolitan Police Detective Chief Superintendent Matthew Horne said in a statement after the verdict. "The defendants, who are world-class cricketers, sought to cheat to enhance their substantial legitimate earnings."

He said they had "let down the cricketing world, their fans and the hardworking people that buy tickets to watch."

"They were role models to countless children around the world and have betrayed their trust," the officer said.

The Pakistanis were accused of spot fixing, which involves deliberately throwing parts of a game rather than the whole match.

Prosecutors accused Butt and Asif of taking part in a betting scam, allegedly arranged by Mazhar Majeed, during a match between Pakistan and England played at the Lord's cricket ground in London.

The News of the World, the British tabloid that first reported the allegations, said players deliberately bowled "no balls," or fouls, at specific points in the game and that the alleged ringleader made 150,000 pounds (about $230,000) in the scam.

The News of the World has since folded in an unrelated scandal.

But Horne praised the newspaper's work, saying it was "unlikely" the corruption would have been exposed without "the good work of investigative journalism; and as an investigator I acknowledge the skill involved in such work."

Prosecutors used audio and video recordings the newspaper made secretly last year involving Majeed, a 36-year-old businessman from London.

In one, Majeed is heard telling an unknown contact it is "not a problem" to fix the result of a match, adding: "Boss, you know how many [players] I have got, you know that they do it."

The jury also heard a series of audio and video recordings of conversations and meetings between Majeed and a reporter from the newspaper, who was posing as a rich Indian businessman. One of the recordings showed the reporter handing over $140,000 in a London hotel room that had been fitted with secret cameras.

Majeed is heard to give the reporter precise details of events in the match, due to start the following day, that would be rigged by the Pakistani players. Specifically, he describes three no-balls -- illegal deliveries -- that the Pakistani bowlers would concede at particular points in the match.

The price of fixing a no-ball, Majeed was heard to say, is $10,000; he went on to tell the undercover reporter that his contact in India made four to five times that amount by betting on no-balls.

The jury was then shown extended clips from the Lord's match, during which the Pakistani bowlers did exactly as Majeed had promised. Before one of the no-balls, the cameras even showed Butt, who was captaining the Pakistani team, consult with Amir, the bowler.

Earlier in the trial, the jury was told the betting market in the Asian subcontinent is "breathtaking in size." Conservative estimates, the prosecution said, puts the value of the market at between $40 billion to $50 billion dollars per year.

Alan Peacock, an anti-corruption official at the International Cricket Council, told the court that the betting market had developed over the years from a focus on fixing match results, to spot fixing: contriving small events within the game, like no balls, or particular patterns of scoring.

Asif and Butt denied the charges.

Majeed was not on trial; the jury was told there is "nothing sinister" about this apparent inconsistency.

News International, the parent company of the now-defunct News of the World, said Tuesday's guilty verdicts were to the credit of its reporter, Mazher Mahmood, who now works for the Sunday Times.

"The convictions secured today are a clear example of where his professional investigative journalism has served the public interest," a spokeswoman said in a statement.

The International Cricket Council was happy with the outcome, having earlier suspended the trio for periods between five to seven years.

"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," the ruling body's chief executive Haroon Lorgat said.

"I am satisfied that we have worked closely with the Crown Prosecution Service and Metropolitan Police throughout this entire process, and I believe that this case has shown that it is possible for criminal authorities and sports bodies to cooperate with each other, in difficult circumstances, in the best interests of the sport and the public at large."

CNN's Andrew Carey and Phil Black contributed to this report.

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