LONDON/KARACHI: In a sensational turn to the spot-fixing scam, the three Pakistani cricketers — Salman Butt, Mohammed Aamir and Mohammed Asif — on Saturday admitted that they took money from bookie Mazhar Majeed but came out with a bizarre defence that it was for some sponsorship contracts.
The suspended trio, being grilled by Scotland Yard in London, claimed the money they took from Majeed was on account of sponsorship contracts they had signed with different commercial organisations.
Their admission came on a day the PCB on Saturday threatened to sue the International Cricket Council if the players are found innocent even as the country’s diplomats struck a discordant note with contradictory statements on the issue.
The players insisted that they did not know that Majeed, working as an agent for them, was also a bookmaker.
“The players also showed their written contracts for these sponsorship deals to the police,” Pakistan legal advisor, Mr Tafazzul Rizvi told Pakistan’s Geo TV.
“The players have contested the allegation and also volunteered themselves for police investigations,” he said.
According to reports, 50,000 pounds were recovered from the hotel room of Butt.
The three players were suspended by the ICC after a British tabloid claimed that they were involved in spot-fixing.
Mr Rizvi also confirmed that the investigating authorities had found some currency from a player’s room during the search of the team hotel in London last weekend.
“But just having currency does not mean the player is involved in criminal or illegal activities,” he contended.
“They were not aware of their agent’s illegal activities. They only had a relationship of player-agent with him. They have constantly proclaimed their innocence of the charges against them,” Mr Rizvi added.
Mr Rizvi, who was sent to London by the PCB to deal with the allegations against the players, said that until any concrete evidence was brought against the trio they were innocent.
“You can’t make any player a criminal just because his agent is involved in illegal activities.”
Mr Rizvi also said that any financial dealings between the players and Majeed were the result of sponsorship and endorsement deals which were normal in such a relationship.
“The money transferred to the players by Mazhar related to sponsorship and endorsement deals. The PCB has given the players the right to appoint their own agents,” he said.
The players had also gone to the Kilburn police station for questioning by investigating authorities on Friday on their own and were available for more inquiries, he said.
The lawyer said that there was nothing unusual in exchange of messages between the players and their agent and the media had been misreporting facts in the case and this had caused great mental stress to the players and their families.
He stated there was not truth in reports that the players had been charged or their passports seized or they couldn’t move around freely.
A day after Butt and Asif and Aamir were suspended by the ICC and questioned by the Scotland Yard, Mr Rizvi told PTI that if the trio is found innocent, the PCB would consider taking legal action against the ICC.
“I want to make it clear that the PCB will consider legal action against the ICC and other bodies if our players are found innocent because we feel the ICC has bypassed some of its own procedures in suspending the players in this case,” he said.
Mr Rizvi also emphasised that at the moment there was no criminal investigation going on against the three players, who were released without charge by the Scotland Yard after questioning in London.
“It is just a preliminary inquiry and nothing more. They are being questioned. No investigations have been held,” he added.
Even as the controversy raged on, Pakistan’s response appeared contradictory with its High Commissioner in Britain, Mr Wajid Shamsul Hasan continuing to attack the ICC for suspending the trio but the country’s envoy to the United Nations, Mr Abdullah Haroon asking for punishment for those found guilty in the scandal.
Launching yet another scathing attack on the ICC, Mr Hasan said by dropping Aamir from the list of its annual awards nominees, the body has strengthened his apprehensions that “there is a rat in the whole affair”.
Mr Hasan, who was described by an unnamed fellow diplomat as a “loose cannon”, said the removal of Aamir from the list of nominees for ICC’s ‘Emerging Player of the Year’ award violates the principle of “innocent until proven guilty”.
“After the shocking, arbitrary and highhanded suspension of the three Pakistani cricketers through the ICC’s uncalled for action, nothing is coming to me as a surprise. Rather, my apprehensions that there is a rat in the whole affair are being strengthened. It is emerging as a fishy situation where pieces have now started falling in place to convince me that there is more than meet the eyes,” he said.
The Pakistani diplomat termed the ICC’s action against the tainted trio as “mala fide and sinister” and said it was done to cover up its own wrongdoings.