HARSH PUNISHMENTS TO PLAYERS WILL RESCUE PAKISTANI CRICKET

ANISUDDIN KHAN
(feedback@pgeconomist.com)

Feb 14 - 20, 2011

When Pakistani cricketers Salman Butt, Muhammad Asif and Muhammad Aamer deliberately bowled no balls allegedly for money in the Lords test last August, they did not consult the national cricket administrators but when they landed in the soup they looked to the PCB to help them.

Pakistan Cricket Board wisely stayed clear from the whole messy episode because all the evidence that came during the Lords test against England had enough evidence to prove the players guilty. The PCB should have immediately taken a decision and barred the players pending national and international enquiry. It was a big mistake because ICC intervened and banned the players bringing bad name to the country.

Later on the things moved slowly but certainly in a predictable direction where there was no escape for the players. The three member ICC tribunal aware of the repercussions of a hasty decision treated the path of investigation warily leaving no room for the players to cry foul.

Another criminal enquiry running parallel in England and led by English metropolitan police and Scotland dropped the bomb shell when they frames criminal charges of corruption and possible cheating under betting law of England against the three.

Simon Clements, Head of the CPS Special Crime Division, said, "We have authorized charges of conspiracy to obtain and accept corrupt paymentsand also conspiracy to cheat against Mohammad Aamir, Mohammad Asif, Salman Butt and Mazhar Majeed."

We have decided that Mohammad Aamir, 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 Mazher Majeed accepted money from a third party 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."

The CPS confirmed its findings in an announcement on Friday, and the trio could be banned for life when an International Cricket Council (ICC) tribunal announces the conclusions of its own investigation in Doha on Saturday. A CPS spokesperson said there was no connection between the two timings.

"Summonses for the same court date [March 17] 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."

In August 2010, Britain's News of the World tabloid conducted a newspaper 'sting operation' which it said proved the Pakistan trio's willingness were involved in the deliberate bowling of no-balls during the Lord's Test against England. The newspaper report uncovered a spot-betting scam where money can be gambled on specific incidents in a match without the need to 'fix' the result.

All the Pakistan trio were interviewed by police. So too was Majeed, whom the newspaper alleged accepted 50,000 to set up the deal. Majeed was arrested, and a third fast bowler, Wahab Riaz, was also interviewed under caution.

While the ICC, which heard evidence from Butt, Asif and Aamir during a hearing in Doha last month, has to consider whether its rules were broken and what, if any, punishment should follow if they were, the CPS has decided that the players have a case to answer under English law.

The Crown Prosecution Service has been working closely with the Metropolitan Police Service since the allegations of match-fixing became public on 29 August 2010, continued the statement.

We received a full file of evidence on 7 December 2010 and we are satisfied there is sufficient evidence for a realistic prospect of conviction and it is in the public interest to prosecute.

"I would remind everyone that these men are entitled to a fair trial and should be regarded as innocent of these charges unless it is proven otherwise in court. The International Cricket Council tribunal is due to announce its decision tomorrow, but criminal proceedings are active now. It is extremely important that nothing should be reported which could prejudice the trial."

Accepting corrupt payments is an offence under the Prevention of Corruption Act 1906 and carries a maximum sentence of seven years' imprisonment and an unlimited fine. Cheating is an offence contrary to Section 42 of the Gambling Act 2005. It carries a maximum sentence of two years' imprisonment and an unlimited fine.

Personal reputation and their cricket career is doomed after the framing of the charges against the three in England. They face stiff sentences which would certainly ruin their cricket career and may be their personal reputation. If found guilty in England the players also face imprisonment.

The Crown Prosecutor in England has stolen a march on the ICC. He has announced that the three Pakistan players and their so called 'business manager will be prosecuted for bribery and or aiding and abetting bribery.

It should be recalled that this writer had strongly suggested that once the Police had forwarded the case to the Prosecutor it had obviously found it to be one with some prima facie evidence. It was then up to the Prosecutor to decide if sufficient evidence existed to be able to prove the case beyond any reasonable doubt in a court of law in England.

This is now the state of affairs and if after trial the accused are found guilty they could be subject to a jail sentence or fine or both.

The trial will be in front of a jury and sadly the current opinion of the public in that country towards Pakistan with regards to terrorism, fanaticism and corruption that has been in the media over the past couple of years will not be in favor of the defendants.

It has been a long time since Imran Khan won his case against an English hero Ian Botham but is felt that the three defendants will receive a fair trial. It will now be interesting to see if any of the accused turn state's evidence and open the can of worms that may suck into the whole evil episode the persons who have not been named in the sordid affair.

At the outset of this sad saga their were muted opinions that suggested that immediate action by the PCB was not taken as it was feared that the accused players may go public and involve some big guns well that possibility will once again come to the fore. One hopes that the 'accident that happened to Hansie Cronje does not get replicated.

The action of the Crown Prosecutor before the ICC's announcements on this case makes one feel that the players are likely to receive exemplary punishment. Whilst if guilty the players deserve all they get for putting Pakistan and Cricket to shame and certainly will not get any sympathy. However, very sadly the too little to late actions by the current and foregoing four Presidents and Board Members of the PCB will sadly get away scot free. They are certainly most responsible for the mess we are in today.

The three Pakistan players at the centre of the spot-fixing allegations that rocked the Lord's Test against England last August have been charged by the UK Crown Prosecution Service with conspiracy to obtain and accept corrupt payments, and conspiracy to cheat.

Salman Butt, the former Test captain, and seamers Mohammad Asif and Mohammad Aamir have been accused of conspiring in the bowling of deliberate no-balls on last year's tour of England - claims they all deny.

Mazhar Majeed, the players' agent, has also been charged, with a first hearing scheduled for City of Westminster Magistrates' Court on March 17. The CPS confirmed that extradition orders would be sought if the three players fail to appear in court, although Rehman Malik, Pakistan's interior minister, gave his assurance back in September that the Pakistan government would cooperate fully with the investigation.

In the meantime the ICC tribunal hearing cases against the trio met in Doha to give their verdict on the case. It had already heard the players and their counsels. The ICC tribunal would give in writing their verdict to the three and would give them chances to contest the sentences.

The procedure for the day should be that the written verdicts are given to the players and the ICC by the tribunal first. If they are found guilty the lawyers and players will then go away to their private rooms in the complex and discuss how to handle the question of potential sanctions. The ICC is keen for maximum punishments - life bans - for all three. The players will, of course, seek to minimize them.