Belfast Telegraph

Cricket: Pakistan's betting scam investigation to keep trio sidelined

The three Pakistan cricketers at the centre of the spot-fixing allegations look certain to be absent from Thursday's tour match against Somerset.

Test captain Salman Butt and seamers Mohammad Asif and Mohammad Aamer were due to be questioned in London tomorrow by Pakistan Cricket Board chairman Ijaz Butt and his country's high commissioner.

That would have clarified the trio's position ahead of the match at Taunton, but now the meeting has been pushed back 24 hours and will take place at the same time as the team are due to be on the field.

The PCB's decision to announce a unilateral, "internal" investigation followed three days of high-level crisis-management talks between them, the International Cricket Council and the England and Wales Cricket Board.

Time is short, following the weekend's newspaper allegations that seamers Aamer and Asif bowled no-balls to order during the Lord's Test - with the knowledge of Butt, and the intention of helping to defraud illegal bookmakers.

Croydon-based businessman Mazhar Majeed was subsequently arrested in connection with the matter but released without charge after 24 hours of interviews at Scotland Yard.

All three players are in the Pakistan Twenty20 and one-day international squad, due to face England from Sunday onwards.

But having travelled with their team-mates from London to Taunton yesterday, they stayed behind at the tourists' hotel on the outskirts of town while their colleagues practised at the County Ground this afternoon.

Team manager Yawar Saeed announced: "Three players - Butt, Asif and Aamer - are going to London.

"It is an internal investigation."

Multiple inquiries are therefore ongoing, as Scotland Yard and the ICC continue their own investigations.

Pakistan's Federal Investigation Agency (FIA), the country's highest law enforcement agency, has also sent three investigators to the UK.

Reports have suggested other matches may have been fixed and up to 80 international Tests could form part of the police investigation.

The claims are the latest in a string of match-fixing allegations to dog the Pakistan team since the 1990s.

Pakistan prime minister Yousuf Raza Gilani, who officially launched the FIA investigation, said yesterday: "The latest fixing allegations have bowed our heads in shame."

There was a fresh development today when HM Revenue and Customs announced three more arrests have taken place, in connection with the betting allegations.

An HMRC statement read: "Three individuals were arrested on Sunday as part of an ongoing investigation into money laundering.

"This includes two 35-year-olds - a male and a female - from the Croydon area, and a 49-year-old male from the Wembley area.

"These individuals were arrested, questioned and have been bailed pending further investigation."

Wicketkeeper Kamran Akmal, the fourth player named in the press allegations, has not been summoned to the High Commission in London - and practised in Taunton today.

Butt, Asif and Aamer had their mobile phones confiscated by police following interviews on Saturday night, at the hotel used by Pakistan during the Lord's Test - which they lost by an innings.

Pakistan's new surroundings in Somerset offered a perhaps welcome relief from the scenes which accompanied their departure from London yesterday, when security was tight and angry supporters made their feelings knows as the team bus pulled away.

Television crews and journalists have followed the tourists west, but public outrage at what some suspect may have taken place was far less evident in Taunton today.

There nonetheless remains an urgency to find a fair resolution to the situation, in the short and much longer term.

ICC chief executive Haroon Lorgat was forthright yesterday in confirming the world governing body's "zero-tolerance" of match-fixing in any form - promising "prompt and decisive action", later suggesting it was his organisation's preference that the trio do not feature.

Public reaction in Pakistan is predictably damning already, and a Twenty20 and then limited-overs series involving Butt, Asif and Aamer may not be not viable in the current circumstances.

It is against that turmoil that the PCB and ICC must negotiate a reasoned but urgent response.

Belfast Telegraph

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