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Court jails Pakistan cricketers, agent for fixing

Former Pakistan cricketer Mohammad Asif arrives at Southwark Crown Court for his sentencing after being found guilty of match fixing charges, in London, Thursday, Nov. 3, 2011. Pakistan cricketers Salman Butt and Mohammad Asif were convicted Tuesday of fixing parts of a test match in the most serious corruption scandal to hit the sport in more than a decade. Former Pakistan cricketer Mohammad Asif arrives at Southwark Crown Court for his sentencing after being found guilty of match fixing charges, in London, Thursday, Nov. 3, 2011. Pakistan cricketers Salman Butt and Mohammad Asif were convicted Tuesday of fixing parts of a test match in the most serious corruption scandal to hit the sport in more than a decade. (AP Photo/Kirsty Wigglesworth)
By Rob Harris
AP Sports Writer / November 3, 2011

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LONDON—Three Pakistan cricketers and an agent were sent to prison in Britain on Thursday for their part in one of the biggest fixing scandals to tarnish the sport in its 134-year history.

Former captain Salman Butt received 2 1/2 years, the longest term of the three players. Mohammad Asif was sentenced to 1 year and 19-year-old Mohammad Amir six months.

Agent Mazhar Majeed was sentenced to 2 years, 8 months. All four may be released for good behavior after serving half their terms.

The players were convicted of conspiring with Majeed to bowl deliberate no-balls as part of a betting scam during the test match against England at Lord's in August last year.

Amir and Majeed had pleaded guilty to the charges of conspiracy to cheat and conspiracy to accept corrupt payments. Butt and Asif were found guilty on Tuesday after a 22-day trial.

It is the biggest fixing scandal in cricket since South Africa captain Hansie Cronje was banned for life in 2000 for taking bribes from bookmakers.

"It appears that the corruption may have been more widespread than the defendants here before me," said Judge Jeremy Cooke, who presided over the trial at Southwark Crown Court.

Cooke said the offenses were "so serious that only a sentence of imprisonment will suffice to mark the nature of the crimes and to deter any other cricketer, agent or anyone else who considers corrupt activity of this kind."

"In Pakistan, where cricket is the national sport, the ordinary follower of the national team feels betrayed by your activities, as do your fellow countrymen in this country," Cooke said.

The quartet showed little emotion in the dock as the sentences were announced, remaining silent as they were led from the courtroom to be taken into custody.

The lawyers for Butt and Amir said they intend to appeal.

Butt, Asif and Majeed are expected to begin their sentences at Wandsworth prison in south London. Amir will be sent to Feltham young offenders' institute in west London.

Amir's mother wept at the family's home in a village near Islamabad as the news broke on television.

"Amir was innocent," Naseem Akhtar said. "He has not done the no-ball for the sake of money, he was forced to throw (a) no-ball."

The judge warned that cricket would be forever tainted by the latest scandal, which emerged as a result of an undercover newspaper investigation.

"Now whenever people look back on a surprising event in a game or a surprising result, or whenever in the future there are surprising events or results, followers of the game ... will be left to wonder whether there has been fixing and whether what they have been watching is a genuine contest between bat and ball," Cooke said. "What ought to be honest sporting competition may not be such at all."

Before sentencing, the chairman of the International Cricket Council's Anti-Corruption and Security Unit said the spot-fixing that occurred at Lord's was unlikely an isolated case.

"It's certainly not indicative of rampant corruption of cricket," Ronnie Flanagan said. "I would have to say it is probably not absolutely isolated. It shows that we can never be complacent, we can never drop our guard, we must be ever vigilant and we will be ever vigilant."

The cricketers were caught after Majeed was recorded by an undercover reporter working for the now-defunct News of the World tabloid saying that the three Pakistan players had accepted money to fix betting markets by bowling three no-balls at prearranged times.

Majeed was secretly filmed accepting $242,000 in cash from the journalist.

Butt said he had ignored the requests from Majeed, his agent, and the 28-year-old Asif -- who reached No. 2 in the ICC's test bowling rankings the month before the Lord's test -- said he had delivered only one of the no-balls in question because Butt had told him to run faster moments before bowling.

In sentencing Butt, Cooke said: "It is clear to me that you were the orchestrator of this activity, as you had to be, as captain."

The judge also said Butt was "responsible for involving Amir in the corruption," describing the teenager as "unsophisticated, uneducated and impressionable."

Amir, a promising fast bowler, feared reprisals if he presented his side of the case. He avoided trial by pleading guilty.

"The reality of those threats and the strength of the underworld influences who control unlawful betting abroad is shown by the (ICC's) supporting evidence," Cooke said.

The 27-year-old Butt, Asif and Amir have already received long suspensions from an ICC anti-corruption tribunal.

Butt was banned for 10 years, five of which are suspended, Amir was banned for five years and Asif was given a seven-year ban, with two suspended.

"The image and integrity of what was once a game, but is now a business is damaged in the eyes of all, including the many youngsters who regarded three of you as heroes and would have given their eye teeth to play at the levels and with the skill that you had," Cooke said.

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AP Sports Writer Rizwan Ali contributed to this report from Islamabad.