London: Nov 2, 2011
Rupert Murdoch's News International hailed the guilty verdicts in the cricket spot-fixing case Tuesday and paid tribute to an investigative reporter dubbed the "fake sheikh" who helped expose the scandal.
Mazher Mahmood's story in August last year in the now-defunct News of the World tabloid led to the convictions of three Pakistan players for their involvement in the betting scam.
The convictions struck a blow from the grave for the weekly tabloid, which was closed in July after 168 years due to a swirl of revelations of phone hacking at the paper, which also rocked the police and the government.
Media baron Murdoch's News International, the British newspaper publishing arm of his US-based News Corporation, welcomed the convictions.
"The investigation which exposed match fixing by Pakistani cricketers astonished the world and is to the credit of Mazher Mahmood who led the investigation for the News of the World," a spokeswoman said.
"The convictions secured today are a clear example of where his professional investigative journalism has served the public interest."
Mahmood's story sent shockwaves through the world of cricket, a sport founded on fair play ideals.
Former Pakistan Test captain Salman Butt and pace bowler Mohammad Asif were found guilty at London's Southwark Crown Court on Tuesday of conspiracy to accept corrupt payments and to cheat at gambling.
Teenage strike bowler Mohammad Amir pleaded guilty to the charges, the court heard after the trial of Butt and Asif concluded.
Mahmood, considered one of the top investigative reporters in Britain, has moved to News International's weekly broadsheet The Sunday Times.
The publishers said his exposes had been responsible for more than 250 criminal prosecutions.
Some of the News of the World's greatest scoops were down to Mahmood and his notorious "fake sheikh" stings, with the reporter dressing up as a wealthy Arab to coax indiscretions and admissions out of celebrities and crooks.
He gave evidence at the cricketers' trial from behind a screen, to protect his identity.
He told the court the original tip-off for his story came from someone whom he had known for years and whose identity would remain confidential.
In an unexpected tribute, Scotland Yard also hailed Mahmood's role -- despite the force investigating the phone hacking scandal that helped bring down the paper.
In a Metropolitan Police statement on the convictions, Detective Chief Superintendent Matthew Horne said Mahmood helped bring the cricketers to the dock.
"It is unlikely such activity would have been exposed without the good work of investigative journalism; and as an investigator I acknowledge the skill involved in such work," he said. (AFP)