DOHA // The three Pakistan cricketers implicated in corruption charges were found guilty by an International Cricket Council tribunal last night and banned for at least five years each.
Salman Butt, the former Pakistan captain, was handed a 10-year ban for being complicit in a plan to fix certain aspects of the Lord's Test against England last summer. Five years of the ban will be suspended if he commits no further breaches of the ICC's anti-corruption code.
The bowlers Mohammad Asif and Mohammad Aamer were found guilty of bowling no-balls in order for financial gain. Asif was handed a seven-year ban, two of which are suspended. Aamer was banned for five years.
The sanctions could mean an end to the international careers of Butt, 26, and Asif, 28, but Aamer could conceivably return and still enjoy a long stay at the top level.
He will be only 23 when his suspension ends, and his lawyer, Shahid Karim, still harbours hopes that the ban could be reduced or overturned. "We are disappointed by the decision, we disagree with it and we will be challenging it in appeal to the Court of Arbitration for Sport," he said.
"Aamer is taking it well because he feels that in due course this will either be set aside or it will be reduced substantially. We have the hope that that will happen."
While the case was in session, speculation suggested that the ICC has been pushing the independent tribunal for the maximum penalties of life bans, were the players to be found guilty.
That all three players could return in five years means the tribunal have affected little more than the minimum term set out by the ICC's anti-corruption code.
Butt's lawyer, Yasin Patel, also implied the commission had felt the code's minimum term to be too harsh a punishment.
"The tribunal's hands were tied by the ICC code to a five-year minimum," Patel said. "Mr Butt was encouraged by the fact the tribunal advised the ICC to change the code or revise the minimum term."
His words tally with the statement of Michael Beloff, the chairman of the tribunal, who advised the ICC to amend the code.
"The tribunal has recommended to the ICC certain changes to the code with a view to providing flexibility in relation to minimum sentences in exceptional circumstances," he said.
The players still face charges in the UK after being summoned to appear in court on March 17 by the Crown Prosecution Service.
They have been charged with conspiracy to obtain and accept corrupt payments and conspiracy to cheat.
Beloff said it was up to the ICC to decide if details of the tribunal's decision should be published but left no doubt where he stands on the matter.
"The tribunal note that it is for the ICC, whether and if so when, the fully reasoned decision in respect of the breaches of the code and of the sanctions imposed in consequence should be published," Beloff said.
"It is our strong and unanimous view that it is in the interests of all concerned in the world of cricket that publication should take place as soon as possible."
The ICC's chief executive, Haroon Lorgat, is scheduled make the governing body's official response in Doha today.