Belfast Telegraph

John Higgins about to learn if he’s snookered

World No1 snooker player John Higgins who was accused in May by the News of the World of agreeing what the paper described as “a disgraceful deal to fix a string of high-profile matches after demanding a £300,000 kickback” will discover today whether a disciplinary tribunal has found him guilty or innocent of that, or of any charges related to corruption.

Higgins, 35, and his business partner, Pat Mooney, were filmed in Kiev at the end of April by an undercover reporting team led by the tabloid's investigations editor, Mazher Mahmood, aka 'The Fake Sheikh', apparently agreeing to lose frames at future events.

Higgins was immediately suspended by snooker's authorities.

An investigation was subsequently undertaken by the WPBSA and charges were laid. Those charges were not detailed in public, but are understood to include failing to report an approach about gambling, misconduct and agreeing or pretending to agree to fix frames.

Higgins has consistently maintained he is “100 per cent innocent” of any charge relating to match fixing or frame fixing. The specifics of the matches that the News of the World said Higgins agreed to fix were always vague: in an elaborate 'sting', the newspaper's reporters posed as businessmen who were going to stage events and crooks wanting to gamble on them.

The case has endured a series of twists and turns — including a failed appeal by Higgins against his suspension — and there was another yesterday morning when Sky News reported, erroneously, that Higgins and Mooney had admitted match-fixing.

A spokesman for Higgins described that report at that time, just after the tribunal hearing had started, as “malicious, speculative and wrong.”

The tribunal was taking place behind closed doors at the offices of a legal firm in the City of London, overseen by Ian Mill QC, on behalf of Sport Resolutions (UK), an independent dispute resolution service.

Snooker has been beset in recent years with rumours and allegations of match fixing, with at least two “serious” cases passing through the Gambling Commission's hands and three players being arrested by police. Higgins was not involved in any of those cases; the players who were involved have never been suspended by snooker's authorities.

Snooker's hierarchy rushed to suspend Higgins on 2 May because of the severity of the News of the World's accusations, which caused a blizzard of appaling publicity for the sport on the weekend of the world championship final. Higgins has always denied involvement in any form of match fixing.

Mooney, who was filmed and taped in a series of meetings with undercover reporters, said as early as 2 May that “we can certainly be accused of being idiots and naive” in dealing with the reporters.

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