On 29 August 2010, the front page of the News of the World (a now defunct British tabloid owned by News Corporation) carried the headline “CAUGHT! Match fixer pockets £150k as he rigs England Test at Lord’s”. The newspaper had enticed the self-styled cricket agent Mazhar Majeed to promise that Pakistani players would bowl no-balls at specified times during the Lords test match against England – no balls that were delivered by Muhammad Asif and Mohammed Amir and orchestrated by the captain, Salman Butt. According to a statistician, the chances of all 3 specified deliveries, which were nominated in advance, being “no balls” were one in 1,473,970 or, even taking account of the greater number of “no balls” bowled at Lords, 1 in 840,757. Many cricket fans were shocked when the News of the World published their report, and there was a subdued atmosphere as the test match that had become a farce continued as normal on the day of publication.
Majeed and Amir eventually admitted their part in the criminal conspiracy, having fought (and lost) International Cricket Council (ICC) proceedings. Butt and Asif always denied their involvement but were convicted by a jury at Southwark Crown Court. In November 2011, Majeed, Butt, Asif and Amir were sentenced to terms of imprisonment ranging from 6 months for Amir, to 2 years and 8 months for Majeed – sentences which were later upheld by the Court of Appeal. Many cricket fans were already aware of the International Cricket Council’s determination that each of the players should be banned from cricket for a number of years, a decision that had been embargoed so as not to prejudice the criminal trial.
Around the world, reactions to the Pakistan cricketers’ convictions were mixed. Some expressed anger towards the players, while others were angry at the criminal justice system in England and the failure of the cricket world to stamp out corruption. News agencies published pictures of people on the streets of Pakistan burning effigies of the three convicted players, while another group burned an effigy of the trial Judge, Mr Justice Cooke.
Cricket is not the only sport to have been affected by fixing. Football, snooker, tennis and horse racing are among other sports to have been tainted by rigging. But not since baseball's infamous 1919 World Series, when eight members of the Chicago White Sox conspired with a professional gambler, Joseph "Sport" Sullivan, and the New York gangster Arnold Rothstein to lose to the Cincinnati Reds, has an attempt to affect a match at the very pinnacle of the sport been exposed. In his sentencing remarks, Mr Justice Cooke said “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 [the players] as heroes.”
THE LAW OF ENGLAND AND WALES
The four defendants in the spot-fixing trial faced 3 counts on the indictment. Count 1 charged Majeed with conspiracy to give corrupt payments under section 1(1) of the Criminal Law Act 1977. He was accused of conspiring with the cricketers to give them money as an inducement for doing acts in relation to the affairs of their employer, the Pakistan Cricket Board, namely identifying in advance the occasions upon which they would bowl “no balls”.
Count 2 was the reciprocal side of count 1 and charged the 3 players with conspiring with Majeed to accept corrupt payments in respect of identifying in advance the occasions when such “no balls” would be bowled. The conspiracy to carry out acts was contrary to the Prevention of Corruption Act 1906 which, by section 1, provides as follows:-
“If any agent corruptly accepts or obtains….from any person, for himself or for any other person, any gift or consideration as an inducement or reward for doing or forbearing to do, or for having after the passing of this act done or foreborn to do, any act in relation to his principal’s affairs or business, …. he shall be guilty …”
Count 3 alleged that both Majeed and the 3 cricketers conspired to cheat, contrary to section 1(1) of the Criminal Law Act 1977, in that they “conspired together and with persons unknown to do an act or acts to enable another or other persons to cheat at gambling” namely to identify in advance the occasions upon which “no balls” would be bowled. The cheating in question fell within section 42 of the Gambling Act 2005 which provides as follows:-
“(1) A person commits an offence if he –
a – cheats at gambling or
b – does anything for the purpose of enabling or assisting another person to cheat at gambling…
(3) Without prejudice to the generality of sub-section (1) cheating at gambling may, in particular, consist of actual or attempted deception or interference in connection with …”
During pre-trial legal argument, counsel for all four defendants submitted that the charges should be dismissed on the basis that they were not made out by the facts. In respect of counts 1 and 2, Counsel unsuccessfully submitted that the prosecution could not show that the corrupt transactions between the News of the World, Majeed, and the players were aimed at the Pakistan Cricket Board (PCB), in the sense of influencing the PCB’s affairs. The trial judge ruled that the acts of each of the cricketers in notifying in advance and then procuring or bowling the “no balls” in question were acts in relation to the affairs or business of the Pakistan Cricket Board, within the meaning of the Prevention of Corruption Act 1906.
Perhaps more relevant in terms of gambling legislation, was the legal argument in relation to count 3, conspiracy to cheat at gambling. The defence argued that an English court had no jurisdiction to try the charge since the alleged betting in question, to which the alleged cheating was intended to relate, was to take place outside England and Wales. Throughout the case, there had been no suggestion that illegal gambling or cheating was taking place domestically and no actual illegal betting had been identified – in fact, the syndicate in India or the Far East to which Mazher Mahmood, the ‘Fake Sheikh’, referred in his recorded discussions with Majeed, the cricket agent, may never have existed at all (though nobody doubts the existence of unregulated betting markets turning over vast sums every year).
The defence pointed out that the Gambling Act creates a framework by which gambling within the UK is regulated and does not cover private gambling between individuals. How then, could illegal gambling, in countries over which the UK regulatory framework has no control, fall within the remit of the Gambling Act? Nothing that the defendants did took place outside England, and both the agreement and the acts said to constitute the furtherance of the conspiracy – the enabling of others to cheat at gambling under section 42(1)(b) of the 2005 Act – took place here. There was nothing else required to be done outside the jurisdiction for the offence in count 3 to be completed, since the conspiracy to do acts “to enable another person to cheat at gambling” or “for the purpose of enabling another person to cheat at gambling” does not require any gambling actually to occur - and none did. Mr Justice Cooke held, inter alia, that there is no other obvious candidate where these offences could be prosecuted since the defendants did not contemplate any specific place where the betting was to take place.
THE PROBLEM WITH CHEATING IN SPORT
Notwithstanding the shock among many cricket fans at the News of the World revelations about spot-fixing, cheating and corruption has long been a problem in sport. Ever since Hanse Cronje (captain of the South African cricket team during the 1990s) admitted taking money from betting syndicates in India and around the world more than a decade ago, the integrity of the modern game of professional cricket had been tarnished.
It has long been known that huge illegal betting markets operate all over the world. TV coverage of sport is spreading to include obscure matches and races. Low-level competitors earning a modest living from their sports suddenly find their endeavours beamed around the world and become vulnerable targets for unscrupulous bookmakers seeking to influence the outcomes of matches or parts of matches. Take the example of the three no-balls procured by the News of the World: the probability of all three specified deliveries being no-balls in the normal run of play could be as remote as 1 in 1,473,970 – serious money can potentially be won by those prepared to cheat. Even at a first-class level, cricketers in Pakistan earn a fraction of the sums available to their English or Australian counter-parts, and the temptation to boost one’s income with lucrative offers of cash for one small no-ball may be all too great. By its nature, spot-fixing can be very difficult to detect.
Cheating and corruption in cricket has a longer reach than many in the game would care to admit. Earlier this year, Mervyn Westfield, the former Essex fast bowler with a bright future, admitted to accepting £6,000 to give away a predetermined number of runs in the first over of a Pro40 match at Durham in September 2009. The Westfield case confirmed the place of cheating at the heart of the English game of cricket and those who are caught would appear to be the tip of the iceberg. Sport has become big business, with both legal and illegal betting markets growing rapidly and specialist forms of betting, such as on brackets and specific over scores giving more opportunities for those inclined to cheat. In the Pakistan spot-fixing case, the News of the World alleged that Yasir Hameed turned down a bookmaker's offer of £100,000 to help fix a Test (denied by Hameed). Hameed had allegedly told the newspaper that "almost every match" was fixed and criticised the players involved.
With an illegal betting market estimated by Interpol as being worth $500bn in Asia alone, every type of sport is affected by cheating. It is undermining the confidence of fans and undermining the regulated betting markets, whose careful monitoring systems enabled industry representatives to give police investigating Pakistan spot-fixing detailed break-downs of betting patterns and any suspicious activities. Many regulated bookmakers would simply not take a bet on a single no-ball because such a bet would be wide-open to corruption. The problem, many argue, is with the unregulated betting markets and unless gambling in Asia and the Far East is legalised and regulated, it simply cannot be policed. In many countries with serious illegal gambling problems gambling is a religious taboo, and so there is no political will for reform.
This summer, London played host to the Olympic Games. There had been significant concern in the run up to the Games that it would be a hotbed of criminal activity. Particular areas of focus were the threat of a terror attack, with anti-aircraft missiles installed on a block of flats in East London, and ticket touting, with special fast-track courts set up to deal with alleged perpetrators. However, there was also concern about the potential for corruption, as the vast majority of Olympic athletes are amateurs, funded only by modest sponsorships or state-funding, and may be from very poor backgrounds in developing countries. To combat this, the Olympics Minister, Hugh Robertson, announced on 1 January that a special intelligence unit would be set up to target spot-fixers.
As with the other fears surrounding crime at the Olympics, those regarding corruption appear, at this stage, to have been unfounded. However, as Hugh Robertson said earlier this year; “At some stage over the next two or three years, we will have some other sort of betting scandal in some sport." As and when this happens, it will be interesting to see how both the public, and the courts, react.