Spot-fixing: Mahmood denies using phone-hacking method

Former investigations editor at News of the World denies that spot-fixing story was exposed through phone hacking.


Reuters October 12, 2011

LONDON: Undercover News of the World journalist Mazhar Mahmood denied he used the phone-hacking practice to break a story about banned cricketers Salman Butt, Mohammad Asif and Mohammad Amir and their agent Mazhar Majeed, on the sixth day of the spot-fixing hearing. 

Mahmood rejected accusations that his expose had involved the illegal interception of voicemail messages. He also told the Southwark Crown Court that he had received death threats since publishing the story.

Butt and Asif, who are standing trial, deny charges of conspiracy to cheat and conspiracy to accept corrupt payments.

Mahmood said he launched an investigation after a ‘secret’ source sent him copies of ‘incriminating’ text messages from Majeed’s BlackBerry phone, showing that match-fixing had been going on for a ‘long time’.

But he insisted that the story ‘had nothing to do with phone-hacking’.

Journalists working for the News of the World have been accused of hacking voicemail messages of people ranging from celebrities to crime victims in a search for exclusives, claims which led to the demise of the paper in July.

Mahmood said he began researching the story after his confidential source, whom he had known for many years, sent him information which was also passed to the International Cricket Council.

Mahmood grilled   

Asif’s lawyer Alexander Milne said the messages were downloaded from Majeed’s BlackBerry and asked the reporter: “Is this not hacked material?”

Mahmood replied: “No, it’s not. One, you’re assuming it’s downloaded from the telephone without the knowledge of the person, and second this is nothing to do with hacking at all.”

The journalist said he consulted the head of the paper’s legal department and confirmed it was ‘completely within the law’ to use them. Mahmood admitted his source was paid after his story was published.

Milne also suggested that Mahmood met Asif twice in London pretending to be a lawyer after the story broke on August 29 last year.

Mahmood, on the other hand, said the claim was ‘completely untrue’ and ‘ludicrous’, and it would have been a criminal offence to do so.

“I’m a guy that’s been receiving death threats after this story, so the last thing I want to do is meet this cricketer,” he said.

An angry Mahmood also went on to call Asif a liar.

“Not only is he a match-fixer, but he’s a liar. He’s been banged to rights as far as I’m concerned and I have no desire to meet him.”

Milne also questioned Mahmood about his experiences with Majeed and referred to a number of bizarre claims by the agent.

“Majeed claimed to know Roger Federer and Brad Pitt,” said Milne. “He was always bigging himself up.”

Mahmood was asked by Milne whether he believed all of his boasts, to which Mahmood answered: “It was of no interest to us,” he said. “I was only interested in the criminality of the people involved.”

The case continues.

Published in The Express Tribune, October 13th, 2011.

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