Reporter denies phone-hacking

2011-10-12 21:58
Mohammad Asif (File)

London - An undercover reporter from the News of the World, the British newspaper at the heart of a phone-hacking scandal which has embroiled Rupert Murdoch's News Corp, denied on Wednesday he used the practice to break a story about cricket match-fixing.

Mazher Mahmood, the investigations editor at the now-defunct Sunday tabloid, rejected accusations that his expose had involved the illegal interception of voicemail messages, the Press Association reported.

He told London's Southwark Crown Court he had received death threats since publishing the story alleging that a sports agent took bribes to arrange for Pakistan cricketers to bowl deliberate no-balls during a Test against England last year.

Prosecutors allege British-based agent Mazhar Majeed conspired with Pakistan's former Test captain Salman Butt, 27, and fast bowlers Mohammad Asif, 28, and Mohammad Amir, 19, to fix parts of the Lord's Test between August 26 and 29.

Butt and Asif, who are standing trial, deny 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 said the story "had nothing to do with phone hacking" and said he had no knowledge of the illegal practice during his 20 years at the News of the World.

Journalists from the newspaper are accused of hacking the 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.

Giving evidence from behind a screen to hide his identity, Mahmood said he began researching the story after a confidential source he had known for many years sent him information which was also passed to the International Cricket Council (ICC).

"They were incriminating text messages which showed these guys had been doing it for a long time," he told the court.

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 is 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 about the texts he received and confirmed it was "completely within the law" to use them.

He admitted his source was paid after his story was published.

Asked if there had been any illegal intercepting of voicemails at all, Mahmood said: "There was no phone hacking involved. You're barking up the wrong tree."

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

The journalist said the claim was "completely untrue" and "ludicrous", and it would have been a criminal offence to do so.

He said the only time he met Asif was in Qatar at an ICC hearing.

"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.

Read more on:    match fixing

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