By Nick Harris
4 February 2011
The three Pakistan cricketers at the centre of the ‘spot-fix’ scandal arising from the fourth Test against England at Lord’s last summer are to face criminal charges, the Crown Prosecution Service has announced today.
Separately, Salman Butt, Mohammad Asif and Mohammad Amir will discover on Saturday the verdicts from their ICC ‘sporting trial’ in January. Those close to them fear the prospect of life bans from cricket. The timing of the CPS announcement does not bode well for the players.
How so? Because the ICC tribunal had access, effectively, to the same body of evidence against the players as the Metropolitan Police and the CPS have had. So the logical conclusion is that if the CPS thinks the evidence is good enough to take to trial under law, then it probably weighed heavy in the ‘sporting court’ in Doha in January.
However, contrary to erroneous interpretations of the CPS statement (which in its original former is linked in full here), the three players are not facing any criminal charge of conspiracy to defraud bookmakers – because none have been shown to have been defrauded. This is because no legal bookie (or illegal bookie with a brain for that matter) accepts bets on a specific no-ball in a specific over in a match. Specific no-balls were at the heart of the Lord’s Test scandal.
Rather, as the CPS statement says: ‘The Crown Prosecution Service (CPS) has authorised charges of conspiracy to obtain and accept corrupt payments and also conspiracy to cheat against Mohammad Amir, Mohammad Asif, Salman Butt and Mazhar Majeed.’
Simon Clements, Head of the CPS Special Crime Division, said: “We have decided that Mohammad Amir, Mohammad Asif, Salman Butt and their agent, Mazhar Majeed, should be charged with conspiracy to obtain and accept corrupt payments and also conspiracy to cheat.
“These charges relate to allegations that Mr Majeed accepted money from a third party [The News of the World’s Mazher Mahmood, acting undercover] to arrange for the players to bowl ‘no balls’ on 26 and 27 August 2010, during Pakistan’s Fourth Test at Lord’s Cricket Ground in London.
“Mr Majeed has been summonsed to appear for a first hearing at City of Westminster Magistrates’ Court on 17 March.
“Summonses for the same court date have been issued for the three players and they have been asked to return to this country voluntarily, as they agreed to do in September last year. Their extradition will be sought should they fail to return.”
The CPS website carries the statement with notes to editors, and so it is possible to see: ‘Obtaining and accepting corrupt payments is an offence contrary to section 1 of the Prevention of Corruption Act 1906.’
This is the key corruption charge against the players, and it carries a maximum punishment of seven years in prison. It relates to taking money to do something bad, in effect. It does not relate to gambling.
But also in those editors’ notes is the following note (curious for reasons to be explained in a moment):
- 4. Cheating is an offence contrary to section 42 of the Gambling Act 2005. It carries a maximum sentence of two years’ imprisonment and/or an unlimited fine at the Crown Court.
Actually, cheating at gambling is an offence, and this is a key distinction. Cheating at Monopoly or Scrabble are not criminal offences, for example, or cheating in the egg and spoon race. The gambling element is – or should be – crucial.
So the inclusion of note No4 effectively says that the ‘cheat’ charges to be laid will be conspiracy to cheat at gambling, and this is curious. Why? Because according to all and any information in the public domain so far, there was never any intention – and no ability – for the parties involved in the spot-fixing to cheat at gambling as a result of the three specific no-balls paid for by the News of the World.
This could become a key point in the players’ defence in a criminal trial on this specific cheat charge, the question of the validity of any charge of cheating under the Gambling Act of 2005. They would have needed to intend to cheat at gambling for that, and as there is no ability to gamble on no-balls, that cannot logically have been the case.
The Act can be read in full here, and the relevant section is here:
A person commits an offence under this act if they cheat at gambling or enable another to do so, and it is immaterial whether they actually make money.
However from a legal standpoint, it is assumed the CPS will need to prove that the players charged with cheating at gambling did or intended to cheat at gambling.
That’s the hard part for the CPS. Because there is no market on individual no-balls, and while the News of the World and others often make febrile claims of enormous black markets where anything goes, there is no evidence anyone anywhere accepted or would have accepted bets on those specific no-balls. Unless the CPS knows different.
One explanation is the the Met Police and the CPS have uncovered a wholly separate betting incident related to the players but not to the no-balls, an incident where gambling was possible, even theoretically.
A CPS spokesman, asked to clarify matters, told sportingintelligence: ‘We can’t get into it at the minute.’
All this is not to say that there appears to be a decent case for some kind of corruption charge. But the gambling charge looks legally trickier.
One other fascinating aspect of a potential criminal trial will be that the News of the World – and Mazher Mahmood in particular – will presumably be prominent. The whole case began with those parties and much of the evidence will have come from them, directly or indirectly.
If brought to the stand to give testimony, Mahmood could offer a fascinating insight into the methods used in obtaining and breaking a story that was the stand-out sports story in Britain in 2010.