The drama of the spot fixing trial at Southwark Crown Court in London concluded today with the sentencing of Salman Butt, Mohammad Asif and Mohammad Amir. Butt and Asif were found guilty and Amir pleaded guilty to charges of conspiracy to accept corrupt payments and conspiracy to enable others to cheat at gambling.
In the absence of television coverage, which is not normally permitted in England, social media was abuzz with updates by several journalists who were providing their followers on Twitter with minute by minute news of all the drama that was unfolding in court, particularly on the final day after the jury had announced its decision. As someone tweeted, days like this are what Twitter was made for!
The text of Mr Justice Cooke’s statement provides an insight into what was revealed during the trial.
Justice Cooke makes it very clear that he lays the majority of the responsibility on the shoulders of Salman Butt, calling him “the orchestrator of this activity”, a natural leader and an educated man from a privileged background. He was also held to be responsible for involving Amir, who the judge calls “an 18 year old from a poverty stricken village background”, in the corruption. The judge also appears to have a strong suspicion that several other players in the Pakistan team were involved in corruption and were encouraged by Butt to use Mazhar Majeed to make money.
The judge appreciates Butt for being good to his family and supporting them financially. He also appears to sympathetic to the fact that Butt has a young family. He says, “You have now a second child, born yesterday to your wife in Pakistan”. Taking into account the 10 year ban imposed by the ICC, the judge sentenced Butt to two and a half years in prison.
In Asif’s case, the evidence appears to have been less clear-cut. Justice Cooke states that none of marked money paid by the News of the World was found in his possession and there was no evidence that he was involved any similar activities in the past. However, the judge says that Majeed was clearly confident that Asif would bowl the no ball when planned and that it was “hard to see how this could be an isolated occurrence” for him either. Based on this, Asif was sentenced to one year in prison.
Justice Cooke appreciated that Amir had pleaded guilty at almost the earliest possible opportunity and accepted responsibility for what he had done. He praised Amir for his courage in doing so despite the fact that he was in a situation where “activity such as this was widespread”. He had given Amir the opportunity to have a separate hearing to share details of the outside pressures that he claimed were being exerted on him, but Amir declined to give evidence due to threats to him and his family, which were limiting what he was able to say in public. He also took into account Amir’s village background and the hard work he had to put in at a very early age to get into the Pakistan team, and sentenced him to six months in prison.
Very clearly, there is a lot more to this story than has reached the surface. Other players within the Pakistan team are involved, and there are clear indications that Amir accepted the risk of a custodial sentence rather than expose himself and his family to threats of harm from what appear to be, at worst, powerful figures in organised crime and, at best, criminal elements that pose some danger to them.
What is sad is that, had we faced facts several years ago, instead of being in denial and trying to cover up what was clearly a growing problem, perhaps we would not have been where we are today. Unfortunately, we have accepted corruption and the “get rich quick” mentality as a part of everyday life to such an extent that it has taken a judge and a jury in an English court to remind us that every time we discard our moral, religious and ethical values for short term financial gain, we are exposing ourselves and our families to a lifetime of potential dishonour, ridicule and shame. Think of the pain that Butt’s wife will be going through, her two day old baby boy in her arms, in the knowledge that she will not see her husband for at least the next 15 months. Think of the heartache that Butt must be feeling knowing that he will miss his newborn son’s first birthday.
I wonder, though, what will happen in a few months from now when, one by one, the prodigal sons return home to Pakistan after serving their sentences. How will we greet them? As criminals deserving of our derision or as warriors returning victorious from battle? That will be yet another test of our national character that we will need to go through. I wish I could confidently predict that we will pass that test.