Players Get Prison Terms in Fixing Case
By John F Burns for The New York Times
The judge in London’s monthlong cricket corruption trial imposed prison sentences Thursday on the four men involved, including a 30-month jail term for Salman Butt, the captain of Pakistan’s national team.
The longest term, 32 months, went to Mazhar Majeed, the agent for the three players sentenced. Butt’s teammate Mohammad Asif drew a one-year sentence, and another teammate, Mohammad Amir, received six months. Amir, 19, is to serve his time in a institution for young offenders.
The judge, Jeremy Cooke, who admonished the men for “the insidious effect of your actions on the international game,” said that if they behaved they would be released under supervision halfway through their sentences. He ordered the players to pay compensation toward the cost of their prosecution, with the highest sum, about $49,600, imposed on Butt.
The scene in Southwark Crown Court, close to the Thames in South London, was tense. Butt, 27, and Asif, 28, appeared stunned as the judge read out the sentences. Afterward, security guards led the men to their cells. The lawyer for Amir said his client planned to appeal.
The trial, which rocked the cricket world, centered on a sting operation conducted by the now-defunct News of the World newspaper during Pakistan’s tour of England in summer 2010. It followed years of suspicions that powerful gambling syndicates based on the Indian subcontinent were bribing players to fix parts of high-profile matches, or even to throw them entirely.
The case hinged on a secretly recorded meeting at a London hotel at which Majeed took £150,000 in marked notes, or about $240,000, from a reporter posing as an agent for the syndicates. The three players were found guilty of a scam that involved bowling three so-called no balls — foul deliveries — at predetermined points in a test match between Pakistan and England at Lord’s, the London ground that is the spiritual home of cricket.
Majeed also boasted at the meeting that he could fix matches involving Pakistan outright in return for about $1.6 million.
Much of the concern has focused on Pakistan’s national team, but a special corruption unit of the International Cricket Council, the Dubai-based governing body of the world game, has been investigating the possibility that other teams have been involved in similar scandals.
Cricket experts have said corruption has the capacity to destroy the game unless policing is expanded, perhaps to the extent of posting officials from the unit, which includes former police officers, at all top international matches.
Amir, 18 at the time of the match, entered a guilty plea to the corruption charges early in the trial, a fact that was sealed on Cooke’s orders until the trial’s resolution. At sentencing, Cooke, addressing Amir through an Urdu interpreter, said that in determining his punishment he had taken into account Amir’s age, his vulnerability to pressure from the older players and his plea. “It took courage,” he said, to plead guilty, according to a BBC account. “You come from a village background where life is hard.”
Earlier this year, the players were barred from all forms of cricket for five years by the International Cricket Council, which had conducted its own inquiry. Cooke said he took that into account in passing sentence, but some powerful figures in the game have said publicly that the punishment, especially in Butt’s case, should be reviewed in light of the evidence at the trial and extended to expulsion for life.
Cooke scolded Butt at the hearing, saying he deserved the heaviest sentence of the three players because the evidence showed that he was “the orchestrator of this thing.” Cooke also said Butt had done “a terrible thing” in corrupting Amir, who was regarded by many as a natural successor to the legendary fast bowlers in Pakistan’s past.
In 1992, Pakistan won the sport’s World Cup, and it has continued to be an international power. For many of the nation’s 170 million people, cricket has been a source of pride in a society plagued by a history of military coups and political corruption. Pakistan has also been accused by the United States of conniving with the Taliban in mounting suicide bombings.
Inevitably, cricket fans will compare the penalties imposed on Butt with the fate of Hanse Cronje, the former South African captain who until now had been the most prominent player caught in a corruption scandal.
In 2001, after a lengthy inquiry in South Africa into match-fixing between South Africa and India, Cronje was barred from the sport for life. He died the next year, at 32, in a plane crash in Johannesburg. Two other South African players were suspended for six months but later resumed their international careers.