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Accusations fly at cricket match-fixing trial

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LONDON, England, November 3 – Explosive claims about wider corruption in the Pakistan cricket team stunned a London court as three guilty players and their agent traded accusations over their roles in the fixing scandal.

Pakistan’s former Test captain Salman Butt, fast bowlers Mohammad Aamer and Mohammad Asif, plus their agent Mazhar Majeed, whose guilty plea can now be reported, sat in the dock together for the first time as their sentences loomed.

As their lawyers pleaded mitigation at Southwark Crown Court ahead of Thursday’s sentencing, new claims emerged, with allegations and counter-claims flying across the packed-out courtroom.

The court heard claims that Majeed had been approached by Butt to facilitate spot-fixing; other players had been involved in betting scams; and Asif had received larger payoffs to stop him defecting to another gambling racket.

The scandal, surrounding fixed events at the August 2010 Test at Lord’s between hosts England and Pakistan, has rocked the world of cricket.

Judge Jeremy Cooke could sentence each defendant to unlimited fines, up to seven years for conspiring to accept corrupt payments and two years for conspiring to cheat by pre-arranging no-balls for shadowy South Asian betting rings.

Majeed’s lawyer, accepting that his client was facing jail, told the agent’s side of the story for the first time in the case — which included fresh claims of further corruption within the Pakistan team.

During the trial of Butt and Asif, who pleaded not guilty, the pair denied receiving bribes from Majeed, 36, who took £150,000 ($240,000, 175,000 euros) from an undercover reporter to lay on rigged events.

Majeed’s lawyer said the agent gave Asif £65,000, Butt £10,000 and Aamer £2,500 from the cash pile — with Asif getting more to stop him switching to another fixing racket.

“The larger amount was paid in order to ensure that that player remained, as it were, loyal to these people, the players within the dressing room, rather than to others by whom he might be tempted,” said Mark Milliken-Smith.

Lawyers for Butt and Asif dismissed the claims about the cash.

Majeed’s lawyer said Butt had approached the agent at the 2009 Twenty20 World Cup, complaining that junior teammates had more lavish lifestyles because they were into illegal fixing.

At a lunch in Australia in January 2010, Butt and another unnamed player told Majeed they wanted to get involved.

The trio met again in Pakistan in February, where the players said they wanted “to add a couple more players and possibly a further one or two in the future,” the lawyer said.

The agent was then introduced to an Indian bookmaker called Sanjay, with Majeed to be the middle man between the mysterious figure and the cricketers.

Majeed “was, we respectfully submit, yes, the arranger for the players. He was not the corrupter,” his lawyer said.

Former England captain Michael Vaughan on Wednesday said he suspected Pakistani players had been involved in corruption for some time.

“I now look back on matches I played in and wonder if strings were being pulled behind the scenes,” he wrote in the Daily Telegraph, citing England’s unlikely win in Karachi in 2000 as an example.

Butt, 27, who became a father Tuesday for the second time just 30 minutes before being found guilty, heard his lawyer Ali Bajwa admit his career was over — and he stood to lose his family too.

But Bajwa denied that his client had initiated the scam.

Appealing for a suspended sentence, he said Butt had been left almost broke by the scandal and had gone from a “national hero to a figure of contempt”.

“He has lost an extraordinary amount. He stands to lose almost the last thing that matters to him: his family,” he said.

“He does not know when he will see his newborn son.”

Asif’s lawyer said it would be “laughable if it were not so serious” if one no-ball was to ruin the 28-year-old’s his career.

In a statement read to the court, Aamer, 19, said he had been trapped by his own stupidity and did not know if he had any future in the game.

“I want to apologise to Pakistan and to everyone that cricket is important to. I do know how much damage this has done to the game, the game which I love as well, more than anything else in the world,” he said.

The judge dismissed claims that Aamer was only involved in one episode of spot-fixing, pointing to suspicious text messages from murky contacts in Pakistan before the preceding Test at The Oval.

The players and their agent were due back in court for sentencing at 10:00 am (1000 GMT) on Thursday.

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