Pakistan players charged over betting scam claims
The three Pakistan cricketers at the centre of match-fixing allegations were suspended from playing cricket last night after being charged under the anti-corruption code of the sport's governing body.
The announcement by the International Cricket Council (ICC) came as Pakistan test captain Salman Butt and fast bowlers Mohammad Asif and Mohammad Aamer prepared to be questioned tomorrow over the allegations by detectives from Scotland Yard.
The three men have insisted they are innocent but have been charged with "various offences" under Article 2 of the ICC's Anti-Corruption Code relating to alleged irregular behaviour during, and in relation to, the fourth Test between England and Pakistan at Lord's last month.
The three have been "provisionally suspended pending a decision on those charges", the ICC said.
ICC chief executive Haroon Lorgat said: "We will not tolerate corruption in cricket - simple as that.
"We must be decisive with such matters and if proven, these offences carry serious penalties up to a life ban.
"The ICC will do everything possible to keep such conduct out of the game and we will stop at nothing to protect the sport's integrity. While we believe the problem is not widespread, we must always be vigilant."
The charges mean the sportsmen are "immediately barred from participating in all cricket and related activities until the case has been concluded".
They have a right to contest the provisional suspension and have 14 days from receipt of the charge to indicate whether they want to defend themselves before an independent Anti-Corruption Tribunal.
The ICC said: "Any player ultimately found to be guilty of committing an offence under the code would be subject to the sanctions described in Article 6 of the code.
"In this case, the alleged offences, if proved, would involve the imposition of a ban."
Mr Lorgat added: "It is important, however, that we do not pre-judge the guilt of these three players.
"That is for the independent tribunal alone to decide."
The charges came as Pakistan's top diplomat in Britain claimed that the men were "set up".
Wajid Hasan, the Pakistani High Commissioner in London, said he believed the trio played no part in an alleged plot to bowl no-balls to order during Pakistan's defeat at Lord's.
He went on to cast doubt on video evidence about the allegations released by the News of the World.
In an interview on BBC News, he said: "We are not seeing on the video what the date or what the time is. Do you have answers to these questions?
"The video wasn't timed or dated. It could have been dated before the match or after the match, or at a different time."
Asked if he thought the three players had been "set up", Mr Hasan said: "Yes, I would say that."
The News of the World dismissed the High Commissioner's claims as "ludicrous", adding in a statement: "Watch this space."
It is understood that the paper is planning to publish further revelations this weekend.
The three players were questioned by police at the weekend at their London hotel and had their mobile phones confiscated.
Reports today suggested the players would be interviewed under caution by Metropolitan Police.
The players today held meetings in London with Mr Hasan and Pakistan Cricket Board chairman Ijaz Butt.
The News of the World reported on Sunday that journalists posing as Far Eastern businessmen paid a middleman £150,000 to arrange for Pakistan players to deliberately bowl no-balls in last week's fourth Test.
Following the report, Mazhar Majeed, 35, a cricket agent who also owns Croydon Athletic Football Club, was arrested by Scotland Yard detectives and later released on police bail.
After interviewing Butt, Asif and Aamer today, Mr Hasan said they would fight to clear their names.
Speaking outside Pakistan's High Commission in central London, he said: "The three players have said that they are extremely disturbed with what has happened in the past week, especially with regard to their alleged involvement in the crime.
"They mentioned that they are entirely innocent in the whole episode and shall defend their innocence as such.
"They further maintain that, on account of the mental torture which has deeply affected them, they are not in the right frame of mind to play the remaining matches.
"Therefore they have requested the Pakistan Cricket Board not to consider them for the remaining matches."
He added: "They are here, they are not running away. They are innocent and they are defending their innocence, and they can't run away like that."
Mr Hasan confirmed that the three cricketers' passports were being held by their team manager, Yawar Saeed.
They had already expected to miss Pakistan's remaining games against England in the current tour, beginning with the first of two Twenty20 matches on Sunday, followed by five one-day internationals.
Mr Saeed told reporters in Taunton, where Pakistan played Somerset today, that three replacement players would fly out to Britain for the one-day internationals.
England and Wales Cricket Board chairman Giles Clarke welcomed this announcement.
He said: "We look forward to an extremely competitive series full of excellent cricket and we can assure cricket fans across the country that the matches will be played in the most competitive spirit, long associated with contests between England and Pakistan."