Spot-fixing controversy October 5, 2011

Prosecution opens with details of illegal betting

Richard Sydenham at Southwark Crown Court

Arguments in the alleged spot-fixing trial of Pakistan cricketers Salman Butt and Mohammad Asif began on Wednesday afternoon with the prosecution making its opening address to the jury, outlining trappings of an illegal cricket betting industry estimated to be worth between "$40 billion and $50 billion" annually.

The second day of the trial at Southwark Crown Court in central London was initially dominated by further legal arguments between the various representatives involved in the case, the details of which cannot be reported. A new jury was sworn in after lunch because of an illness to a member of the initial jury. Like the former jury, though, the new one was also made up of six women and six men.

Justice Cooke did not then waste any time in beginning the proceedings and Aftab Jafferjee QC began to present the prosecution's case to the jury at 2.10 pm. He spoke late into the afternoon before closing for the day at 4.35 pm. He will continue his opening address on Thursday morning, before the ICC's general manager and chief investigator Ravi Sawani gives evidence.

Butt and Asif are facing charges of conspiracy to cheat, and conspiracy to obtain and accept corrupt payments, following the Lord's Test in August 2010, when they allegedly conspired with agent Mazhar Majeed, fast bowler Mohammad Amir and other people unknown to bowl pre-determined no-balls. Butt and Asif deny the charges.

They were exposed by the now-defunct British tabloid News of the World in an undercover sting operation. Majeed was filmed revealing when no-balls would be delivered by the bowlers.

Jafferjee distributed large plastic folders to the jury so that they could better understand his address. These comprised records of phone and SMS traffic between the involved parties. There were also graphics to help the jury understand the specifics of a no-ball.

In fact, because the prosecution realises it cannot presume that all jurors are aware of cricket, Jafferjee spent some time explaining what a no-ball is, what a Test match is and he also outlined how illegal betting has penetrated the world of cricket.

"This case reveals a depressing tale of rampant corruption at the heart of international cricket, with the key players being members of the Pakistan cricket team," was Jafferjee's opening address to the court.

He went on to add, of the underground betting culture in cricket: "You (the jury) will hear that the sums of money involved in the betting market abroad are breathtaking. In just one year, it is conservatively estimated that the amounts turned over in betting in the Asian subcontinent only - covering matches played throughout the cricketing world - are in the region of US$40 and 50 billion. Even if that figure is reduced to a tenth, it not unsurprisingly makes 'spot'-fixing and match-fixing irresistible to some."

One sensed that to a jury comprising people who would not know cricket all that much, it would have been an arduous afternoon. Even for people who know cricket. Much of what Jafferjee said was already in the public domain through the News of the World's coverage last year. He explained that whatever opinion people had of that now defunct newspaper, they should not undermine the investigative journalism that went on to expose the allegations being tried in this case.

"There are 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.

"Those that were prepared to act in this way involved key players of the Pakistan side, starting with their captain Salman Butt. He and his agent Mazhar Majeed were central to this particular conspiracy. They alone, however, could not ensure that a wide range of corrupt practices would take place without others being part of this particular operation. Their two top-order fast bowlers were involved: Mohammed Asif and Mohammed Amir.

"It is the prosecution's case that all four men were involved 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. The bowlers were willing participants so that they could all profit - those lower down the ladder probably profiting less than those at the top."

Much of Jafferjee's address included details of calls and SMS messages between Butt and Majeed, while Amir also featured heavily in these passages, with Asif less so.

Jafferjee even revealed the lengths that investigators had gone to, to expose as much truth in this case as possible. He said that a firm in Canada specialised in exposing deleted messages on Blackberry phones and this tactic had been used.

While detail was well chronicled at the time of the alleged offence, such as late night conversations and messaging between Butt and Majeed before the Oval Test match (which preceded Lord's), some detail that ensued from Jafferjee was not so well known: such as text messages between Amir and an unknown in Pakistan.

"How much and what needs to be done?" said one message, read out by the prosecution. "This is going to be too much," said another message. The Pakistani unknown said in one: "So in first three, bowl however you want, and in the last two, do eight runs?" These messages were translated from Urdu, and were thought to be a repetition of instructions he had received at some point.

At another time, Jafferjee told the jury how, when police were raiding the players' rooms at the Marriot Hotel on August 28, Amir contacted a number on a phone given to him by Azhar Majeed - Mazhar's older brother and business partner - and asked not to be contacted again and to erase all messages

The trial will resume at 10.00 am on Thursday, though the court will not sit on Friday.