Scotland Yard detectives have confiscated the mobile phones of three of the Pakistan cricket team‘s leading players as part of an investigation into one of the biggest betting scandals in the sport’s history that is threatening to engulf the game.
The cricketers, captain Salman Butt and bowlers Mohammad Amir and Mohammad Asif, were questioned along with wicket keeper Kamran Akmal by detectives following allegations that they were involved in a betting scandal during the Lord’s Test match, won by England.
As well as the phones, detectives took away documents and other possessions in plastic bags.Police have contacted the Crown Prosecution Service, and officers from the Met’s economic and specialist crime command are leading the investigation.
The allegations centre on the timing of three no-balls – where the bowler oversteps the line – delivered by Amir and Asif during the game. Undercover reporters from the News of the World, posing as representatives of a “far east gambling cartel”, allegedly paid a middleman £150,000 and in return were told exactly when the balls would be bowled.
Butt refused to be drawn on the allegations during a news conference but insisted he and his team-mates had “given our best … “I would say that everybody in this team has given 100%”.The England captain, Andrew Strauss, said he was “absolutely astonished” by the allegations. “There was no prior warning or anything like that … First astonished, then pretty saddened straight away.”
The alleged fixer, 35-year-old Mazhar Majeed from Croydon, was arrested yesterday on suspicion of conspiracy to defraud bookmakers. He was last night released on bail without being charged.
His brother and business partner, Azhar Majeed, said the allegations were “just rubbish” and “laughable”. He added: “I’m extremely worried. Nothing like this has ever happened to us. Ever. I have no idea as to what happened and what’s led to him counting out that money.” In video footage released by the News of the World, Mazhar Majeed is apparently seen with a pile of money in front of him, allegedly given to him by undercover journalists for revealing the timing of “spot-fixes” during the match.
The spot-fixing scandal is the latest in a long list of cheating allegations that have dogged the Pakistan cricket team. Questions were first raised in the mid 1990s when Australian players Shane Warne and Mark Waugh accused the then-Pakistan captain, Salim Malik, of offering them bribes to perform poorly.
Four years ago, the team was accused of ball tampering during a tour of England. The Australian umpire Darrell Hair ruled that Pakistan had forfeited the Test at the Oval by refusing to take the field in protest over his ball-tampering ruling. In May this year the International Cricket Council’s anti-corruption unit looked at the team’s poor performance after being heavily beaten by Australia during a tour of the country. It was last night reported that they were considering an examination of up to 80 Test and one-day matches involving Pakistan. Saeed insisted today cricket in the country was not “institutionally corrupt” and said the claims in the News of the World were unproven.
Pakistan’s president, Asif Ali Zardari, has called for a detailed report from the Pakistan Cricket Board. The country’s sports minister, Ijaz Hussain Jakhrani, promised strong action would be taken against any player who was found guilty. “If any players are found guilty of being involved in fixing they will be banned for life,” he said.