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Jail for Pakistan’s tainted trio in spot-fixing trial

London: Former Pakistan captain Salman Butt and two of his teammates — pacers Mohammad Asif and Mohammad Amir — were today sentenced to jail for their role in the spot-fixing scandal, making them the first cricketers ever to be imprisoned for corruption.

Former Pakistan cricketer Salman Butt arrives at Southwark Crown Court for his sentencing after being found guilty of match fixing charges, in London on Thursday. APOn a day of dramatic developments for the cricketing world, Butt was sentenced to two and a half years, Asif was handed a one-year term, while the 19-year-old Amir was sentenced to six months in the young offenders’ detention center instead of jail.

Players’ agent Mazhar Majeed got the strongest punishment as he was sentenced to two years and eight months in prison by Justice Jeremy Cooke after a trial that ran for close to three weeks at the Southwark Crown Court here.

The convicted four can appeal against their sentences. Amir’s barrister Henry Blaxland QC said he intended to apply for bail later pending an appeal against his sentence.

“‘It’s not cricket’ was an adage. It is the insidious effect of your actions on professional cricket and the followers of it which make the offenses so serious,” said Justice Cooke in his sentencing remarks.

“The image and integrity of what was once a game, but is now a business is damaged in the eyes of all, including the many youngsters who regarded three of you as heroes and would have given their eye teeth to play at the levels and with the skill that you had.

“These offences, regardless of pleas, are so serious that only a sentence of imprisonment will suffice,” he told the convicted quartet.

The grim-faced players were immediately led out to prison from the courtroom.

Butt, who apparently corrupted his teammates, was called the “orchestrator” of the scam that was revealed after a sting operation on Majeed by the now-defunct tabloid ‘The News of the World’ in August last year.

“It’s clear you were the orchestrator of these matters. You had to be to make sure these two bowlers were bowling at the time of the fix,” the judge stated.

“As captain you influenced Amir at an age when he was just 18. Amir is a talented bowler, it was hard for him to resist as you were the captain. As captain you have perpetuated corruption. You did terrible things, it is bad for cricket and bad for your country,” he said.

“But you have been good to your family so you have been sentenced to a 30 months imprisonment.”

To Asif, Cooke said: “Whilst no money was found in your possession, it’s clear that you conspired to bowl a no-ball. There’s no evidence on your part of prior fixing but it’s hard to see that this could have been an isolated incident.”

Cooke said he settled for a lighter punishment for Amir as he had pleaded guilty and had taken responsibility for his actions.

“You have already accepted your responsibility for whatever you have done and also you come from a rural background and you were just 18 at that time. I am considering all that and I sentence you for six months, otherwise, it would have been nine months,” he said.

Butt and Asif were found guilty of conspiracy to cheat and conspiracy to accept corrupt payments by a jury on Tuesday, while Majeed and Amir pleaded guilty at a pre-trial in September.

The cricketers, however, might have to serve just half of their sentences as they can be released on license if their behaviour is good.

The three players were also ordered to pay up the prosecution cost of the case. While Butt was asked to fork out 30,937 pounds, Asif and Amir were told to pay 8,120 and 9,389 pounds respectively.

“Now, when people look back at a surprising event in a game or a surprising result or ever in the future there are surprising results, followers of the game who have paid to watch cricket or who have watched cricket on TV will wonder whether there has been a fix or what they have watched was natural,” the judge said.

The trio entered the courtroom amid commotion as mediapersons jostled with laymen for seats in what was perhaps the biggest criminal trial involving cricketers and their sentencing ends a year of high drama which has left Pakistan embarrassed.

The saga began in August last year when shocking footage of Majeed claiming that he could fix a Test match for USD one million came to light.

Majeed claimed to have Butt, Asif and Amir on his payroll and revealed how the trio conspired to send down pre-determined no balls during the Lord’s Test against England last year.

The hotel rooms of the cricketers were subsequently raided by the police after the sting and cash was recovered from their possession.

Butt was banned for 10 years, five of which were suspended, Asif for seven years, while Amir was suspended for five years by the International Cricket Council in earlier disciplinary action against the three.

In the earlier match-fixing scams involving big names such as Hansie Cronje, Salim Malik and Mohammed Azharuddin, various judicial commissions had returned guilty verdicts but no cricketer had been criminally punished so far.

The only previous conviction of sportsmen in the UK courts for cheating came in 1964 when three footballers, including two from Sheffield Wednesday, were jailed for throwing games.

During the conviction, the Prosecutors had stated that Butt and Asif had been motivated by greed to “contaminate” a match watched by millions of people and “betray” their team, the Pakistan Cricket Board and the sport itself.

Prosecutor Aftab Jafferjee QC said the case “revealed a depressing tale of rampant corruption at the heart of international cricket.”

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