Fresh doubt over Higgins cheat claims as mystery lingers over entrapment ‘firm’

By Nick Harris

9 May 2010

As John Higgins faces new allegations today of betting-related misconduct, sportingintelligence can reveal that a phone call at the centre of the fresh claims was assessed at the time by the relevant gambling authorities and deemed “clean” and not worthy of further investigation or action.

The front page of today’s News of the World claimed a ‘Shocking New Snooker Sensation’ and carried the headline ‘Higgins bet on himself to LOSE’.

The accompanying story, rather confusingly, explains in some detail how Higgins, in fact, had actually NOT placed a bet on the match in question, the 2009 World Championship final against Shaun Murphy.

The newspaper alleges that Higgins tried to place a bet on Murphy during a break in the match at a point when Higgins was ahead. The NotW does not specify how much the attempted bet was for, or when Higgins allegedly attempted to place it, or whether Higgins wanted to bet on Murphy winning a frame, a session or the match.

The paper does not allege a specific amount or specific bet because its source cannot remember.

The Ladbrokes call centre worker who allegedly had the conversation in question with Higgins has, the paper says, “sworn a legal affidavit” saying that Higgins called and asked to place a bet. It is not known if the NotW paid the source for her story.

“I can’t remember exactly how much he wanted to bet but the figure £1,000 sticks in my mind,” this source told the NotW, adding that she asked Higgins why he would want to bet on Murphy. “I just want to cover myself,” the source alleges that Higgins told her.

The source says Higgins was doing so well in the match at the time of the call that “a bomb would have had to come through the roof for him to lose.”

If this quote reflects Higgins’ domination at the time, it would be logical to assume the call took place on Monday 4 May after the third session (of four) of the two-day final. The score after the first session was 4-4, after the second session 11-5 (both those on Sunday), and after third session, 16-8.

The first player to 18 frames wins the final. Higgins won the match 18-9, and picked up £250,000 for winning. He would have banked £125,000 runners-up prize money if he had lost.

It should be stressed: Higgins placed no bet. But for readers who don’t understand betting, if Higgins had indeed placed a £1,000 bet, while 16-8 up, on Murphy to win the match (at 25-1 or thereabouts at that time), Higgins would be guaranteed £250,000 from winning the match, and still only £150,000 from losing. In other words, even if he had placed that bet, there was still a clear incentive for himself to win.

The most pertinent fact is he did not place the bet. As even the NotW’s source alleges, she told Higgins that as a player he couldn’t bet, he allegedly said he didn’t realise that, and the call ended.

The NotW source says “the call would have been recorded and the time and date will have been logged”. Sportingintelligence understands the call would definitively have been logged, but not necessarily recorded in the audio sense.

Actual bets are recorded in this way. Other conversation is not necessarily recorded. There was no bet, so no certainly of a recording, and the existence or not of a recording is clouded further, according to a source, by the fact that the call centre in question has now closed.

It therefore may not be possible to actually check via tape what was actually said, or verify whether Higgins did indeed ask to place the (unspecified) bet, or simply asked for a price, or indeed made the call himself at all. If the tape does exist, investigators will listen to it.

Significantly, sportingintelligence has learned that any encounter of the type alleged – where Higgins as snooker player was trying to place a bet on his own match, which is forbidden – would have been reported and investigated.

A Ladbrokes spokesman told us today: “We’re aware of what our reporting obligations are to the authorities.”

Those obligations, under the Gambling Act 2005, are that bookmakers must make a report to the Gambling Commission if they have evidence of corruption, or suspicions of corruption or of infringements of sport-specific betting rules. In some cases a bookmaker would also separately inform an individual governing body of a suspicious case.

Whatever did or didn’t happen that day with Higgins, sportingintelligence understands there was no concern from the betting authorities, either at Ladbrokes or the Gambling Commission. It is not known if snooker’s governing body, the WPBSA, was notified about the call.

It is not clear whether Higgins has breached any part of snooker’s code of conduct relating to betting, which explicitly outlaws players betting on their own matches, because he did not actually place a bet. Even as reported by the NotW, he inquired about a bet, was told he wasn’t allowed to bet, and didn’t bet. WBPSA officials are checking the precise wording of the rules to see if attempted betting is explicitly outlawed.

Elsewhere in today’s NotW, Higgins’ manager, Pat Mooney, is featured making claims about how he could guarantee certain score lines in matches and names players he says he could involve in these theoretical matches that would have been staged by NotW “businessmen” in cahoots with a NotW “fictitious betting syndicate”. Mooney is apparently under the influence of alcohol as he talks. The NotW says there is no suggestion that what Mooney alleges is true.

Sportingintelligence has already reported on the way in which the NotW executed its sting on Mooney and Higgins.

A website for a fake company, Alfa Equity, was key to an elaborate deception. It carried lies presented as fact about some real-life respectable companies that fictitious Alfa apparently dealt with. This information was used to establish Alfa’s credentials.

Sportingintelligence knows some of those companies were unhappy with their unwitting involvement in the sting. That fake website has been taken down in the past few days, although extracts screen-saved by sportingintelligence can be seen here.

For some reason, in footage released on the NotW’s website today of Mooney, covertly filmed by the NotW, one sub-title refers to Alpha Equity (with a “ph” not an “f”). This diverts from the fact that a website for a fake company called Alfa Equity was key to the sting.

The WPBSA continues to investigate Higgins and Mooney. Mooney resigned last week from the WPBSA board. Higgins is likely to receive a long ban from the game unless he can explain how he and Mooney came to be filmed in Ukraine apparently agreeing to accept money for losing frames at future unspecified events.

Higgins says he is innocent and was saying whatever necessary to get out of the meeting. The NotW has said it will co-operate fully with the WPBSA investigation but today’s paper suggests it has yet to hand over key footage, let alone every tape, transcript and other piece of evidence that shows how it worked its sting and got its results.

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