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Friday 4 November 2011


Betrayed Youngsters who would’ve given eye teeth to play
Jailed Trio of players who killed the saying ‘it’s not cricket’
London, Nov. 3: Mohammed Aamer is a very lucky young man – he will be released from a young offenders’ institution in three months because the judge felt he was a simple village youth who had been led astray by his captain.
Trust, Mr Justice Cooke argued, was gone.
“Now, whenever people look back on a surprising event in a game or a surprising result or whenever in the future there are surprising events or results, followers of the game who have paid good money to watch it live or to watch it on TV, in the shape of licence money or TV subscriptions, will be led to wonder whether there has been a fix and whether what they have been watching is a genuine contest between bat and ball. What ought to be honest sporting competition may not be such at all.”
The offences were so serious “that only a sentence of imprisonment will suffice to mark the nature of the crimes and to deter any other cricketer, agent or anyone else who considers corrupt activity of this kind”.
The speculation yesterday was that the Pakistani Test cricketers – captain Salman Butt, 27, and fast bowlers Mohammed Asif, 28,and Aamer, 19 – had conspired with their agent Mazhar Majeed, 36, to bowl three no balls to order last year, would be sent to prison for seven years.
Instead, Mr Justice Cooke gave Aamer six months today and said he will be released on parole after three.
Majeed received two years and eight months, the heaviest, but he, too, will serve half his sentence before he is released on licence. That means he has to be “on good behaviour” while he serves the rest of his sentence outside prison.
The judge had harsh words for Butt because he was the skipper and had corrupted young Aamer and gave him 30 months. He will come out of prison after 15 months.
Asif got a year – he will be out in six months.
Majeed, Butt and Asif will be held at Wandsworth prison in South London where they may get picked on my on by other prisoners.
Oscar Wilde, incidentally, moved to Wandsworth prison, having started serving his sentence in 1895 for preaching “the love that dare not speak its name” at Pentonville.
No doubt, there will be disappointment that the judge was not tougher today but by sending three top cricketers to prison for corruption, the first time such action has been taken in the sport, he was making a point.
Just before 10am, the door to court number 4 at Southwark Crown Court opened and there was an unseemly stampede by journalists waiting outside for an hour or more to find a seat inside. Some had laptops open ready to flash the verdicts to the cricketing world outside.
The electronic clock showed the time – 10:14:46 – as Mr Justice Cooke started reading his verdict. The four guilty men sat next to each other in a large glass box but did not exchange even pleasantries with each other. Next to Aamer was a young Asian woman, his “interpreter”.
The judge’s voice was so soft that he could scarcely be heard in the dock. The four men sat still, heads slightly bowed, as Mr Justice Cooke read his judgement.
His main point was that cricket was a very special game which had been ruined by corruption.
Outside court, as British, Indian and Pakistan journalists jostled to get in, an Englishman could be heard admonishing: “We queue in this country – it’s an old English custom.”
This sense of cultural superiority could well be reinforced in some manner by the trial of four Pakistanis. As one Pakistani journalist left after the verdict, he called out to The Telegraph: “Today is a sad day for Pakistan.”
There was a sense that this was not just a trial of three cricketers and their agent but a battle between English and Pakistani cultural values.
The four had corrupted a pastime “the very name of which used to be associated with fair dealing on the sporting field”, the judge commented. “ ‘It’s not cricket’ was an adage. It is the insidious effect of your actions on professional cricket and the followers of it which make the offences so serious.”
They had “procured the bowling of 3 no balls for money”.
“The image and integrity of what was once a game, but is now a business is damaged in the eyes of all, including the many youngsters who regarded three of you as heroes and would have given their eye teeth to play at the levels and with the skill that you had,” he remarked.
Mr Justice Cooke spoke of the damage to national pride. “In Pakistan, where cricket is the national sport, the ordinary follower of the national team feels betrayed by your activities, as do your fellow countrymen in this country. You Butt, Asif and Aamer have let down all your supporters and all followers of the game.”
He turned to Majeed, Butt, Asif and Aamer, in turn.
The first was Majeed who had accepted £150,000 from an undercover reporter Mazher Mahmood from the News of the World. Police had confiscated wads of cash when they entered the hotel rooms of the cricketers in summer last year.
“The fact that of the £150,000 that you actually received, only £2,500 in marked notes was found in Butt’s possession and £1,500 in Aamer’s possession, together with the evidence of payment of £13,000 into Butt’s bank account and some £23,000 into your company’s accounts, suggests that you took the lion’s share of the cash paid by the journalist,” the judge said.
Mr Justice Cooke hinted the problem could be much deeper within Pakistan cricket. “Whether or not what this court has had to consider is just the tip of an iceberg, is not for me to say and lies beyond the scope of the evidence I have heard, but, even allowing for your ‘sales talk’ to the journalist, I am sure that there was an element of truth in what you said about past fixing.”
India was dragged in on a couple of occasions.
Once, when the judge told Majeed: “It is clear from the telephone schedules that you were in touch with contacts in India and Dubai and were passing on information relating to the Oval and Lord’s Test matches in relation to gambling activity there.
India was again mentioned when he said: “It is hard to assess the amounts of money of which persons might have been but were not defrauded in the gambling industry, by virtue of information given to the journalist and to say whether or not any money was made as a result of the information given to the Indian and Dubai contacts, of which there is no evidence. The extent of your gain remains unclear.”
The four men looked impassive as the judged his verdicts. Perhaps they did not even understand the legal wording.
To Butt, who pleaded guilty to two counts of conspiracy, the judge said: “It is clear to me that you were the orchestrator of this activity, as you had to be, as captain, in arranging for these bowlers to be bowling the overs which were identified in advance to Majeed and which he identified to the News of the World.”
He contrasted Butt’s background with that of Aamer. “You were a natural captain, picked out as such from the age of 17 for national teams, and had the advantage of a good education. You were a man of status. As I have already said, you bear the major responsibility for the corrupt activities, along with Majeed.”
He held the skipper responsible for leading his teenage bowler astray. “I consider that you were responsible for involving Aamer in the corruption – an 18 year old from a poverty stricken village background, very different to your own privileged one, who, whilst a very talented bowler, would be inclined to do what his senior players and particularly his captain told him, especially when told there was money in it for him and this was part of the common culture. For an impressionable youngster, not long in the team to stand out against the blandishments of his captain would have been hard.”
The judge suggested there could be other guilty men who had not been brought to court. “It appears that the corruption may have been more widespread than the defendants here before me, and may have permeated the team in earlier days, though I have seen no direct evidence of that. If that is the case, you, as Captain, perpetuated such an atmosphere of corruption and would be responsible for it and for the desire to use Majeed and his contacts to make money for yourself and others in the team.”
The judge condemned the captain: “In the words you used to the jury – what you did was a terrible thing – it is bad for the game of cricket, bad for the country and shows the character of the man involved. Not only were you involved but you involved others and abused your position as captain and leader in doing so, bringing to bear your considerable influence on Aamer at the very least.”
In passing sentence, the judge took into account that all three cricketers were banned by the International Cricket Council from playing international cricket for, at least, five years.
He told Butt: “You have been subjected to a ban on playing cricket for 10 years, of which 5 are suspended. You will be 31 or so, when the active part of that ban comes to an end and you will have lost some of the best years of a batsman’s life as well as the years of captaincy. Your playing career may well be at an end for all practical purposes.”
As for Asif, who faced a seven year ICC ban, of which two were suspended, “its effect on your career as a fast bowler now aged 28, means that your cricketing career is effectively over”.
“This enables me to take a more lenient course, than I otherwise might,” Mr Justice Cooke explained. “That is the punishment imposed by the cricket authorities but these crimes of which you have been convicted require that a sentence be imposed which marks them for what they are and acts as a deterrent for any future cricketers who may be tempted.”
He commended Aamer for pleading guilty which he acknowledged “took courage”.
There was a sinister reference to the underworld in Pakistan. “You have referred, in material presented to the court, to threats to yourself and your family, saying that there are significant limits to what you can say in public. The reality of those threats and the strength of the underworld influences who control unlawful betting abroad is shown by the supporting evidence in the bundle of documents, including materials from the Anti Corruption and Security Unit of the ICC.”
Aamer, who had pleaded guilty to two charges, was told: “If you had not pleaded guilty you would have received concurrent sentences of 9 months’ imprisonment on each offence.”
All the four men learnt that they “will serve half the time imposed in custody and then you will be released on licence. If you breach your licence or commit any other offence, you may be brought back to serve the remainder of your sentence.”
The News of the World’s cheeky demand for the return of £150,000 from Majeed was rejected – “the News of the World got what it bargained for when paying the £150,000 in question”.
But the four will be required to contribute to prosecution costs – £56,554 for Majeed; £30,937 for Butt; £8,120 for Asif; and £9,389 for Aamer.
Aamer’s barrister said the young bowler would appeal against his sentence. Butt’s solicitor also said the cricketer would lodge an appeal against his sentence within 24 hours.
The trial took place in Britain because the offence took place on British soil. If the Pakistani cricketers had refused to agree to a trial in Britain, they could have faced unforeseen consequences in Pakistan.

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