Former Pakistan captain Salman Butt and two of his teammates — pacers Mohammad Asif and Mohammad Amir — were today sentenced to varying jail terms after being found guilty of spot-fixing, making them the first cricketers ever to be imprisoned for corruption.
Players’ agent Mazhar Majeed got the strongest punishment as he was sentenced to two years and eight months in prison by Justice Jeremy Cooke after a trial that ran for close to three weeks.
“These offences, regardless of pleas, are so serious that only a sentence of imprisonment will suffice,” Cooke told the convicted quartet here today.
Butt, who apparently corrupted his teammates, was called the “orchestrator” of the scam that was revealed after a sting operation on Majeed by the now-defunct tabloid ‘The News of the World’ in August last year.
“It’s clear you were the orchestrator of these matters. You had to be to make sure these two bowlers were bowling at the time of the fix,” the judge stated.
To Asif, Cooke said: “Whilst no money was found in your possession, it’s clear that you conspired to bowl a no-ball. There’s no evidence on your part of prior fixing but it’s hard to see that this could have been an isolated incident.”
Butt and Asif were found guilty of conspiracy to cheat and conspiracy to accept corrupt payments by a jury on Tuesday, while Majeed and Amir pleaded guilty at a pre-trial in September.
The cricketers, however, might have to serve just half of their sentences as they can be released on license if their behaviour is good.
The three players were also ordered to pay up the prosecution cost of the case. While Butt was asked to fork out 30,937 pounds, Asif and Amir were told to pay 8,120 and 9,389 pounds respectively.
“Now, when people look back at a surprising event in a game or a surprising result or ever in the future there are surprising results, followers of the game who have paid to watch cricket or who have watched cricket on TV will wonder whether there has been a fix or what they have watched was natural,” the judge said.
The trio entered the courtroom amid high drama as mediapersons jostled with laymen for seats in what was perhaps the biggest criminal trial involving cricketers and their sentencing ends a year of high drama which has left Pakistan cricket embarrassed.
The saga began in August last year when shocking footage of Majeed claiming that he could fix a Test match for USD one million came to light.
He claimed to have Butt, Asif and Amir on his payroll and revealed how the trio conspired to send down pre-determined no balls during the Lord’s Test against England.
The hotel rooms of the cricketers were raided by the police after the sting and cash was recovered which the trio could not explain.
Butt was banned for 10 years, five of which were suspended, Asif for seven years, while Amir was suspended for five years by the International Cricket Council in earlier disciplinary action against the trio.
In the earlier match-fixing scams involving big names such as Hansie Cronje, Salim Malik and Mohammed Azharuddin, various judicial commissions had returned guilty verdicts but no cricketer had been criminally punished so far.
The only previous conviction of sportsmen in the UK courts for cheating came in 1964 when three footballers, including two from Sheffield Wednesday, were jailed for throwing games.
During the conviction, the Prosecutors had stated that 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. Prosecutor Aftab Jafferjee QC said the case “revealed a depressing tale of rampant corruption at the heart of international cricket.”
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