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EXCLUSIVE

Hong Kong cricketer charged with anti-corruption offence as ICC widens net on match-fixing

A Hong Kong international cricketer who was due to feature at the World Twenty20 championship in India in March has been charged with an 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.

All-rounder Irfan Ahmed, 26, faces a possible ban of between two and five years if found guilty before a tribunal of an allegation he failed to report to authorities an offer made to him by an alleged match-fixer.

Approached by alleged fixers: Lou Vincent.
Approached by alleged fixers: Lou Vincent. Photo: Supplied

The charging of Ahmed will rock the tight-knit cricket community in the former British colony, which is ranked 11th in the world in T20 cricket and will end up playing against the likes of England and South Africa at the World T20 in March if the team advances through the preliminary stage.

However, it could also have far wider reaching implications with the ICC Anti-Corruption Unit understood to be continuing a probe into the reach of illegal bookmaking networks, and in particular their targeting of players in associate nations.    

Facing a ban: Hong Kong all-rounder Irfan Ahmed.
Facing a ban: Hong Kong all-rounder Irfan Ahmed. Photo: Getty Images

Ahmed has retained the Hong Kong-based Australian barrister Kevin Egan, who on Monday moved to play down the seriousness of the charge against his client. Egan said Ahmed had been charged with failing to report an approach "from a former Pakistani cricketer in Hong Kong", and there was no suggestion at all he had been involved in corruption.

"[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," Egan told Fairfax Media. "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."

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The former Pakistani cricketer who had struck up a close bond with Ahmed was believed to be Nasem Gulzar, who did not represent Pakistan. Gulzar, who left Hong Kong several years ago, is believed to have nurtured Ahmed while playing local cricket there. Gulzar was named in the perjury trial of Chris Cairns in London last October when Vincent claimed he fixed matches in the now defunct Indian Cricket League and in county cricket under the instruction of the former New Zealand all-rounder.

The court hearing that case, in which Cairns was found not guilty, was told last October that Vincent was paid £60,000 ($125,000) by Gulzar and a fixing agent, Varum Gandhi, for underperforming in a T20 match between Sussex and Kent in August 2011. Vincent batted slowly in Sussex's run-chase with teammate Navid Arif and their team lost the match. The court heard Vincent gave £15,000 to Arif, an 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, 28, also represents Hong Kong. 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 in an interview last month with London's Telegraph the chairman of their investigative branch, Sir Ronnie Flanagan, spoke of the corruption threat to lower level cricket including in associate nations, where players could be targeted because of their low wages. Hong Kong's nine contracted players, for instance, earn between $HK9000 ($1600) and $HK11,000 ($A2000) a month. 

"The harder international cricket is made as a target the bigger the risk of displacement towards domestic games and lower levels of international cricket," he  said. "For the bad guys to succeed they want an event that is televised then they can go about their illegal betting." 

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