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The International Cricket Council has suspended Salman Butt, Mohammad Amir and Mohammad Asif, the three players implicated in the Lord's spot-fixing scandal, under the provisions of the Anti-Corruption Code. The move came on the same day Pakistan announced that the players had opted to voluntarily withdraw from the forthcoming limited overs series with England.
An ICC press release said that the three players had been charged with "various offences under Article 2 of the ICC Anti-Corruption Code for Players and Player Support Personnel relating to alleged irregular behavior during, and in relation to, the fourth Test between England and Pakistan at Lord's last month".
The allegations revolve around an article in last Sunday's News of the World, in which a 35-year-old man, Mazhar Majeed, claimed he had paid Asif and Amir to bowl no-balls to order.
The trio, said the release, "have been officially notified of the offences they are alleged to have committed and have been provisionally suspended pending a decision on those charges. In accordance with the provisions of the code, this means they are immediately barred from participating in all cricket and related activities until the case has been concluded.
"The players have a right to contest this provisional suspension and a further opportunity to defend these charges at a full hearing before an independent Anti-Corruption Tribunal in accordance with Article 5 of the code. The players have 14 days from their receipt of the charge sheet to indicate their desire for a hearing."
On a day of hectic developments, officials from the ACSU met officials from Scotland Yard in relation to the ongoing investigation. This is thought to have played an important part in developments later. The three players will now be questioned by Scotland Yard early Friday morning. A local legal firm has been appointed to defend the players, with the PCB's legal advisor, Taffazul Rizvi, also in London assisting the case.
There is a suggestion from the Pakistan camp that the PCB wasn't informed of the decision to suspend the players and that, with the Scotland Yard investigation still live, "it was a bit inappropriate to announce this now," one official close to the proceedings told Cricinfo. "No evidence has been shared with us so far."
Earlier on Thursday Pakistan officials made a robust protestation of the players' innocence, with the High Commissioner to the UK, Wajid Shamsul Hasan, suggesting in an interview with the BBC that the three men had been the victims of a "set-up".
However, ICC's chief executive, Haroon Lorgat, said: "We will not tolerate corruption in cricket - simple as that. We must be decisive with such matters and if proven, these offences carry serious penalties up to a life ban. The ICC will do everything possible to keep such conduct out of the game and we will stop at nothing to protect the sport's integrity. While we believe the problem is not widespread, we must always be vigilant.
"We could not do anything before today because we had not completed the work that we needed to do and also we did not want to prejudice the criminal investigation the police were busy with," added Lorgat, having emerged from an hour-long meeting that is not believed to have involved any officials from the PCB. "Having said all of that, we got into a position by 8pm today where we were able to charge the three players. We have provided them with their charge and provisionally suspended them giving them the opportunity to respond within 14 days."
The ICC Anti-Corruption Code for Players and Player Support Personnel was updated and strengthened in 2009 with the unanimous support of ICC Members, and this is the first time that the power of suspension has been implemented. Going forward, an independent panel will investigate the matter, excluding the member country concerned - in this instance, Pakistan.
'It is important, however, that we do not pre-judge the guilt of these three players," added Lorgat. "That is for the independent tribunal alone to decide." Details of the date and location of the tribunal hearing (as well as its composition) will be finalised in due course.
Any player ultimately found to be guilty of committing an offence under the code would be subject to the sanctions described in Article 6 of the code. In this case, the alleged offences, if proved, would involve the imposition of a ban. There is also a possibility, at the discretion of the independent tribunal, that a fine would be imposed in addition to a ban.