The International Cricket Council (ICC) today confirmed that it has charged and provisionally suspended Hong Kong cricketer Irfan Ahmed with an offence under Article 2.4.2 of the ICC Anti-Corruption Code (effective from 10 October 2012 to 10 November 2014).
As reported in the Sydney Morning Herald, Ahmed has been charged with the anti-corruption offence after being approached by one of the same alleged fixers who paid disgraced former New Zealand batsman Lou Vincent to corrupt county matches in England.
The Hong Kong all-rounder, who was due to feature at the World Twenty20 Championship in India in March, faces a possible ban of between two and five years. He will appear before a tribunal, charged with failing to report to authorities an offer made to him by the alleged match-fixer.
The charging of Ahmed will come as a huge blow to Hong Kong cricket, who are currently ranked 11th in the world T20 rankings. Indeed, they could end up playing the likes of England and South Africa at the World T20 in March, if they can get through the preliminary stage.
However, it could also have far wider reaching implications with the ICC Anti-Corruption Unit (ACU) understood to be continuing a probe into the reach of illegal bookmaking networks, and in particular their targeting of players in associate nations.
Ahmed has enlisted the help of Hong Kong based Australian barrister Kevin Egan, who yesterday moved quickly to play down the seriousness of this charge by stating that Ahmed had only been charged with failing to report the approach ‘from a former Pakistani cricketer in Hong Kong’, and there was no suggestion at all he had been involved in corruption.
He said: “[The former cricketer] was like a father figure to him and [Ahmed] was approached with a corrupt offer which he rejected. But the only criminality alleged against him by the ICC was simply having failed to report that approach. At the moment we’re in negotiations with the ICC and those negotiations have not yet concluded. I expect that within the next couple of weeks we will have come to a conclusion.”
The former Pakistani cricketer in question is believed to be Nasem Gulzar, who never represented Pakistan at international level. Gulzar is believed to have nurtured Ahmed while playing local cricket in Hong Kong. He was also named in the perjury trial of Chris Cairns in London last October, when Vincent claimed he fixed matches in both county cricket and the now defunct Indian Cricket League, under the instruction of the former New Zealand all-rounder.
In Chris Cairns’ case, the court heard that Vincent was paid £60,000 ($125,000) by Gulzar and a fixing agent, Varum Gandhi, for under performing in a T20 match between Sussex and Kent in August 2011. He batted slowly enough with partner Navid Arif to ensure their team lost; Vincent then gave £15,000 to Arif, another associate of Gulzar.
A spokesman for the Hong Kong Cricket Association said on Monday the organisation was “unable to comment in the circumstances”. Ahmed, who has represented Hong Kong in six ODIs and eight T20 internationals, has not played since October 31, after which he withdrew from playing duties for personal reasons. His brother Nadeem also represents the associate nation; they have Pakistani heritage, but were raised in Hong Kong.
Under the ICC anti-corruption code, and the codes of member bodies such as Cricket Australia, it is an offence to fail to report a corrupt approach or knowledge of one made to another signatory to the code.
The ICC does not comment on ACU matters, but the chairman of their investigative branch, Sir Ronnie Flanagan, has spoken of the corruption threat to lower level cricket including in associate nations, where players could be targeted because of their low wages.
For example, Hong Kong’s nine contracted players, for instance, earn between $HK9000 ($1600) and $HK11000 ($A2000) a month. Flanagan said: “The harder international cricket is made as a target, the bigger the risk of displacement towards domestic games and lower levels of international cricket. For the bad guys to succeed, they want an event that is televised so they can go about their illegal betting.”