A British judge jailed disgraced former Pakistan cricket captain Salman Butt, two of his bowlers and their agent Thursday for their part in a fixing scandal which rocked the international game to its core.
Butt, 27, looked aghast as he was handed a 30-month term at London’s Southwark Crown Court, where he and fast bowler Mohammad Asif were found guilty Tuesday of fixing parts of the August 2010 Lord’s Test match against England.
Asif, 28, was jailed for a year, while prodigious 19-year-old bowler Mohammad Aamer, who pleaded guilty to involvement in the scam to pre-arrange no-balls for shadowy South Asian betting rings, was sentenced to six months.
Their corrupt British agent Mazhar Majeed, 36, who had also pleaded guilty but claimed Butt had approached him to arrange the scam, was given the longest sentence - two years and eight months. “These offences, regardless of pleas, are so serious that only a sentence of imprisonment will suffice,” judge Jeremy Cooke told the four men, adding that they would each serve half their sentences and then be released on licence. He said the players were motivated by greed despite the large amounts of money they could earn legitimately, and said he hoped the sentences would deter other cricketers and agents from following their “hugely detrimental” example.
The judge also condemned what they had done to the sport of cricket itself, “the very name of which used to be associated with fair dealing”.
“It’s the insidious effect of your actions on professional cricket and the followers of it which make the offences so serious,” he told the packed courtroom. Its “image and integrity” stands “damaged in the eyes of all, including the many youngsters who regarded three of you as heroes”.
Despite their status, he said the players had “procured the bowling of three no-balls for money to the detriment of your national cricket team, with the object of enabling others to cheat at gambling”. Any surprising event in a cricket match will now be suspect to suspicion, he said.
“In Pakistan, where cricket is the national sport, the ordinary follower of the national team feels betrayed by your activities,” he added, saying corruption had become the “common culture” in the Pakistan side.
“You, Butt, Asif and Aamer have let down all your supporters and followers of the game.”
The Pakistan cricket board (PCB) distanced itself from the convicted players, saying the trio had let the country down. “It is a sad day for Pakistan cricket that these players instead of having pride in playing for their country chose to disappoint their supporters and let their nation down,” PCB official Nadeem Sarwar said.
The PCB also reiterated its support for all anti-corruption measures taken by the International Cricket Council and member boards and said it would be recommending to the government to draft laws against corruption and fixing in cricket.
The world of cricket has reacted with dismay to the worst fixing scandal since South Africa captain Hanse Cronje in 2000, but the head of the anti-corruption unit of the International Cricket Council, Ronnie Flanagan, denied that corruption was rampant in the sport.
“The vast, vast majority of cricketers are not only wonderfully talented, but wonderfully ethical people,” he said.
The ICC has already banned Butt for 10 years with five suspended, Asif for seven years with two suspended, and Aamer for five years straight after finding them guilty of corruption in February. They are all appealing the bans.
Cooke called Butt the “orchestrator” of fixing within the Pakistan team and said that given his “leadership status” and direct involvement with Majeed, he was “more culpable than either of your two bowlers”.
At her simple two-roomed home outside Islamabad, Aamer’s mother Nasim Akhtar wept when she heard the sentence. “My son is innocent and he did the no-ball at the asking of the captain,” she said.
His older brother Mohammad Ijaz said the family thought he would be released with a fine having pleaded guilty.
In Lahore, one of Butt’s sisters, Khadija, said the punishment was “unfair” and “shocking”, adding: “His crime is that he was at the wrong place at the wrong time.”
Butt’s father Zulfiqar said his son - who faces a long wait to meet the baby his wife gave birth on Tuesday - had been made a scapegoat, others said the players had deserved their punishments.
Butt intends to appeal, his lawyer said in London.
“On behalf of Salman Butt I simply want to confirm that we will be appealing the sentence and launching grounds of appeal against it in the next 24 hours,” lawyer Paul Harris said.
The scam was uncovered by the now-defunct News of the World, the Rupert Murdoch-owned tabloid shut down over a phone-hacking scandal in July.
But the judge said it was clear that Majeed, Butt and Aamer had discussed fixing outside the NOTW sting, in which an undercover reporter paid Majeed £150,000 ($240,000) to lay on rigged events.
Butt was told to pay £30,937, Aamer £9,389, Asif £8,120 towards the prosecution costs, money which is already in police hands. Majeed was ordered to pay £56,554 within six months.
Majeed collected his suitcase as he as was led from the dock, while Asif nodded to a friend in the public gallery before disappearing down to the cells.