LONDON // Three Pakistan cricket stars were accused of betraying themselves, their country and their sport by accepting bribes as part of a massive betting scam, a court in London heard yesterday.
The former captain Salman Butt and bowlers Mohammad Asif and Mohammad Aamer have already been suspended from all cricket by the Dubai-based International Cricket Council for accepting money to bowl deliberate "no balls" in a Test match against England at Lord's in August last year.
Butt, 26, and Asif, 28, were in the dock at Southwark Crown Court in south London yesterday as prosecutor Aftab Jafferjee opened the case, which he said represented "rampant corruption" at the heart of international cricket.
Both players have pleaded not guilty to charges of conspiracy to cheat and accepting corrupt payments in return for arranging to bowl "no balls" at specific stages of the match.
Mr Jafferjee told the jury that the men had been paid by UK-based sports agent Mazhar Majeed, 36, who has been charged with the same offences.
Knowledge of the exact moments the "no balls" were to be delivered would allow gambling syndicates to make millions on the "spot betting" market in Asia.
The sums of money involved in such gambling were "simply breathtaking", the prosecutor added, with an estimated US$40 billion (Dh146bn) being wagered in one year on the Indian subcontinent alone.
"Those involved in this plot lent themselves willingly and for financial gain, to fix not just the outcome of the match but, in particular, aspects within each match on a day-by-day basis, Mr Jafferjee said.
"There are, of course, vast amounts of money to be made in any betting activity if the results are known in advance, and all of that was at the expense of the integrity of the game."
Mr Jafferjee claimed that Mr Butt and Mr Majeed were central to organising the "spot fixing" scam but that the conspiracy could not have been carried out without the two fast bowlers, Mr Asif and Mr Aamer, who was 19 at the time.
"And by the time the last Test match at Lord's took place, each of them was well at it, the two bowlers being orchestrated by their captain and the captain's agent, Majeed, to bowl three 'no balls' at a pre-arranged point in the game," Mr Jafferjee said.
The prosecutor said that the scandal had only been exposed by an undercover investigation by the News of the World, the Sunday tabloid closed in the summer amid the furore over phone-hacking allegations.
"Were this investigation not to have been permitted, this activity of 'fixing' would almost certainly have continued, unabated, unaccountable, and beyond the reach of the law," Mr Jafferjee said.
He said that, after his arrest, Mr Butt had told police that it was just "a series of freakish occurrences" that the three no-balls had been delivered by Mr Asif and Mr Aamer at the precise moments when Mr Majeed had promised the News of the World reporter they would be.
The trial is expected to last up to five weeks.