Friday, 14 October 2011

News of the World lost £104,300 cash in cricket spot-fixing sting, court told

The News of the World lost £104,300 in cash that it paid to the agent at the centre of the Pakistan spot-fixing allegations, a court has heard.

Mazher Mahmood, the former NoW investigations editor known as the fake sheikh, paid £140,000 in cash in a suitcase to the cricketers' agent Mazhar Majeed, the jury hearing the spot-fixing trial at Southwark crown court heard.

The money, which the prosecution said followed an initial £10,000 cash payment, was intended as a deposit to prove Mahmood's supposed commitment to fixing events at cricket matches.

At the time he was posing as an Indian businessman with connections to an Asian betting ring. Mahmood had previously told the court it was the biggest cash sum he had ever been entrusted with in 15 years of undercover investigation.

The court heard in evidence from police officers involved in the investigation that the newspaper, which was shut down this year, recovered only £45,700 of the full sum.

The jury was told that £2,500 in cash, with serial numbers identified as notes originating from the NoW, was recovered in the hotel room belonging to Salman Butt, who is accused of cheating at gambling and accepting corrupt payments. He denies the charges.

Butt, then the Pakistan captain, explained to police in evidence heard by the court that this money had arrived to him as an advance on a £5,000 "appearance fee" for opening an ice cream parlour in Tooting belonging to Majeed.

The prosecution has alleged that the money was instead a payment from Majeed in return for Butt directing his bowlers to deliver no-balls at predetermined times in Pakistan's fourth Test against England at Lord's last year.

The court heard Butt telling police in a taped interview: "I don't think anyone can influence me to cheat my country. There's no way I'd ever do that in my life. There's no individual in the world who can tell me to do that and no way I can tell [Butt's co-defendant] Mohammad Asif or Mohammad Amir [who has been charged with the same offence but is not currently standing trial] to do that."

The court was told that the NoW's £2,500 was found among £30,000 found in a locked suitcase in Butt's hotel room along with four mobile phones. Butt told police the money and phones had been accumulated from touring the world with the Pakistan team. "Especially in England there's lots of Pakistan community, they take us out to dinner and they do not want us to pay," he said.

"It's wonderful money, we are some of the best-paid sports people in Pakistan. People in the team don't think I've cheated. No one's said that. In all my years in cricket I've never had a charge against me.

"We always played the game and took a lot of pride in playing in Pakistan. We know if we don't play well we get slammed with tomatoes and eggs. We hate losing because we get so hated when we lose."

When asked by police to explain how the no-balls came to be delivered at the times precisely predicted by the agent to Mahmood, Butt described it as a "very freak occurrence".

Asif was not in court to hear his own police interview, having arrived late after suffering a bout of sickness overnight. The court heard Asif being accused of succumbing to pressure to fix the no-balls. But Asif responded by insisting there was "no pressure, these are just no-balls".

The court heard details of Majeed's financial situation. Police had found dozens of accounts with a number of different banks belonging to him. "Balancing up these accounts there is a balance of a little over £700,000 overdrawn," said Ali Bajwa QC, representing Butt. "In fact it was £704,043 overdrawn."

The case continues. ( Guardian)

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