By Nick Harris
29 September 2010
The Crown Prosecution Service has told sportingintelligence today that it is not yet in a position to decide whether there is any criminal case against any of the Pakistan cricketers at the centre of the Lord’s “spot fix” scandal, let alone close to pressing charges.
The case is complicated by lack of clarity over what precise criminal offence the players may or may not have committed.
Salman Butt, Mohammad Asif, Mohammad Amir and Wahab Riaz were all questioned by police – and the first three were suspended by the ICC – in the wake of a News of the World report on 29 August that the paper had paid a corrupt middle-man, Mazhar Majeed, £150,000 to arrange the bowling of three no balls at the Lord’s Test last month. Three no balls were subsequently bowled by Asif and Amir.
The Metropolitan Police and the ICC both launched investigations, and on 17 September, the Met released a statement saying: “The Metropolitan Police Service has today delivered an initial file of evidence relating to conspiracy to defraud bookmakers to the Crown Prosecution Service. The file will now be subject to CPS consideration. This is an initial file and the Met investigation continues.”
The CPS has confirmed to sportingintelligence today, however, that it is not in a position to decide on any charges because the Met Police investigation is not at a stage where such a decision can be taken.
“The ball is in the Met’s court,” a CPS spokeswoman said. “We’re not sitting here looking to decide whether to press charges because we’ve only got preliminary papers [from the investigation].
“We don’t have a full file of evidence for consideration. We need to look at a complete investigation or a full file to move forward, but the police can come to us for advise at any stage if they require.”
In complex cases, the Met and the CPS will work together as cases unfold to decide when there is sufficient evidence to make a case to answer. Charges would not be laid if the CPS felt there was little or no chance of a conviction, for example.
This is where a criminal prosecution against the players specifically could become tricky, from a legal point of view.
If the police are trying to establish a case for conspiracy to defraud a bookmaker, for example, they might need to demonstrate a bookmaker was actually defrauded, or could have been, whereas in fact no bookmaker, certainly not in Britain, takes bets on individual “no balls” at specific times.
Thus no bookie within the Met’s jurisdiction was, or could have been, defrauded as a result of the specific spot-fixes in the Lord’s Test.
Similarly, it is unlikely that any cheating charge under the Gambling Act would stick, because there is no suggestion of a gambling offence by the players; neither receiving money from the News of the World nor bowling no balls are, in themselves, criminal offences.
(The players could yet face a raft of sporting charges under ICC rules, but those are wholly separate, and not criminal.)
It could be possible that the players end up being charged with a general conspiracy to defraud (but not defraud a bookmaker). The former Essex fast bowler Mervyn Westfield was charged with this earlier this month, and was in court last week. However even Westfield’s charge has been disputed on legal grounds.
Westfield’s lawyer sought and was granted an adjournment until 15 October while checks are made whether Westfield can actually be charged under the law with defrauding Essex CC, its players and fans (as he was), as opposed to defrauding a bookmaker, which is an offence but not one the CPS felt able to bring in that case.
The Pakistan case is similarly complicated, with the Met police saying that the CPS are the people best placed to comment, and the CPS saying “the ball is in the Met’s court” until the investigation is finished. Westfield’s case could act as a litmus test of whether the Pakistan players face any criminal charges.
In other recent developments, Salman Butt has appealed his ICC suspension, while a weekend report in The News in Pakistan reported sources claiming that Amir was coerced into involvement in the Lord’s spot-fixing without being “aware of the gravity of the situation”.