Mazher Mahmood

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Mazher Mahmood (born 22 March 1963) is an undercover reporter for the British tabloid press. He spent 20 years working for the News of the World (and for The Sunday Times)[1] during which time he was responsible for numerous investigations,[2] including a reputed 94 that led to convictions.[3] More recently, he has worked for the The Sun on Sunday, successor to the News of the World.

In July 2014, Mahmood was suspended from The Sun on Sunday after a trial collapsed with concerns voiced by a judge that Mahmood may have perjured himself. The Crown Prosecution Service subsequently announced its intention to review more than 30 criminal trials in which he gave evidence.[4]

Mahmood became known popularly as "The Fake Sheikh" because he has often posed as a sheikh in the course of his investigations. In addition to numerous highly regarded public interest investigations, he has attracted allegations of breaking the law without any clear public interest justification, including several episodes in which he has been accused of entrapment.

In September 2008, he wrote a book entitled Confessions of a Fake Sheik – The King Of The Sting Reveals All.[2]

Background[edit]

Mazher Mahmood was born in Small Heath, Birmingham on 22 March 1963, the second of two sons of Sultan and Shamim Mahmood, journalists from Pakistan who came to Britain three years earlier.[5]

Mahmood's only face-to-face televised interview was in 2008 with the BBC's Emily Maitlis on The Andrew Marr Show.[6]

Career[edit]

Mahmood got his first job as a journalist at the age of 18, exposing family friends who sold pirate videos. This gained him two weeks work at the News of the World, after which he started freelancing at the Sunday People. In 1984, while trying with fellow journalist Roger Insall to expose a vice-ring at the Metropole Hotel at the National Exhibition Centre, Birmingham, he first used the sheikh disguise when inviting prostitutes to a hotel room.[7]

Mahmood then worked for The Sunday Times, which according to the International Herald Tribune he joined in 1989. A managing editor at that time, Roy Greenslade, later alleged that he was dismissed for trying to cover-up a mistake.[5][8][9] Mahmood has consistently disputed Greenslade's version of events. Mahmood then briefly worked as a producer on the TV-am programme of David Frost,[5] before joining the News of the World in 1991.[2]

Methodology[edit]

Mahmood maintains high levels of secrecy, and says he rarely goes into the News International offices. It is said that written into his contract is a clause stating that his photograph would not be published. When featured in images that accompany his stories, he has been represented with a silhouette next to his byline.[10]

In addition to his "Fake Sheikh" persona, Mahmood has used the identity of businessman Sam Fernando.[11] He is reputed to be accompanied on occasions by a bodyguard, said to be his second cousin Mahmood Qureshi, who has posed as businessman Pervaiz Khan.[12] Conrad Brown, the son of former NoW reporter Gerry Brown, operates the concealed video cameras and microphones.[13]

Awards[edit]

Mahmood has won various newspaper awards, including British Press Awards "Reporter of the Year" 1999 for his exposé of Newcastle United directors.[14] At the awards ceremony, a figure dressed as a sheikh collected the award, and then revealed himself to be Kelvin MacKenzie, former editor of The Sun.[10]

He won Reporter of the Year again in 2011, as well as Scoop of the Year, for an investigation of cricket match fixing. He also picked up the Sports Journalists' Association award in 2011 for the same story.

Political subjects[edit]

On 30 March 2006, the politician George Galloway claimed that Mahmood and an accomplice "sought to implicate" him in what would be illegal political funding and tried to attribute to him "anti-Semitic views, including Holocaust denial". Galloway complained to the Metropolitan Police commissioner, Sir Ian Blair, and the Speaker of the House of Commons. In his letter to the Speaker's office Galloway also claimed that Mahmood had in the past deceived Diane Abbott and had sought a meeting with Jeremy Corbyn, both also prominent anti-war MPs.[15][16]

The News of the World tried to secure a High Court injunction preventing publication of photographs of Mahmood, even on weblogs, but were granted only a temporary injunction, which expired on 7 April 2006.[17] Galloway sought to thwart this tactic by brandishing a photograph of Mahmood, during an interview on Channel 4 news.[18]

Other politicians featured in Mahmood's investigations have included Minister David Mellor,[19][20] who resigned following his affair with actress Antonia de Sancha.[21] Environment Minister Tim Yeo was caught cheating on his wife, and both his secret love child with Julia Stent[22] and his earlier adopted daughter were revealed.[23]

Immigration[edit]

He has repeatedly entered the UK using fake passports to highlight allegedly lax immigration rules. Corrupt Home Office officials and police officers; solicitors and crooked doctors have also been targets.[7]

September 2004 terrorist plot[edit]

In September 2004, he posed as a Muslim extremist to "expose" three men who were trying to buy radioactive material for a suspected Muslim terrorist group seeking to carry out attacks in the United Kingdom. However, the men were later found not guilty following a trial at the Old Bailey, with the judge criticising the News of the World for not checking the credibility of the story.[24][25]

Sports celebrity subjects[edit]

Mahmood won the "Reporter of the Year" award in 1999 for his exposé of Newcastle United bosses Freddy Shepherd and Douglas Hall, who mocked fans and branded Geordie women "dogs" after taking Mahmood, posing as the sheikh, to a brothel in Marbella.[14]

Footballer John Fashanu was exposed for match fixing. Fashanu offered to fix matches for Mahmood and took a cash deposit. Fashanu claimed that he knew about the sting all along and was only appearing to be corrupt so as to gather evidence for the police.[26]

In January 2006, Mahmood met England head coach Sven-Göran Eriksson, posing as a businessman interested in opening a sports academy. Eriksson, however, asked him to take over Aston Villa F.C., and revealed that he intended to leave England after the World Cup to become Aston Villa manager, and that he would approach David Beckham from Real Madrid to become captain. On 23 January, the Football Association announced that Eriksson would leave his job after the 2006 FIFA World Cup, and it was thought that the News of the World allegations played a part in this decision.[27] This was later denied by both parties, with Eriksson explaining that there was a prior arrangement to terminate his contract immediately after the World Cup.

On 28 March 2010, Mahmood revealed former world champion boxer Joe Calzaghe taking cocaine. The boxer and Strictly Come Dancing contestant admitted using the drug after being caught in a sting, and vowed to seek help for addiction.[28]

In May 2010, Mahmood exposed World Snooker Champion John Higgins and his agent Pat Mooney for apparently agreeing to fix the outcome of future individual frames which would not necessarily alter the course of a match. Meeting in a hotel room in Kiev, Ukraine on the morning of Friday 30 April, where Higgins and his manager had travelled after his exit from the 2010 World Championship, to ostensibly meet the undercover News of the World team the newspaper described as men posing as businessmen interested in organising a series of events linked to the World Series of Snooker. On video, Higgins and Mooney discussed how to throw frames. On the publication of the story on Sunday 2 May, Barry Hearn, Chairman of the WPBSA, immediately suspended Higgins from WPBSA tournaments, promising a full investigation, stating "Those responsible, if proved, will be dealt with in a very harsh and brutal way. People have a right to see pure sport – that's what I want snooker to be." Mooney resigned from his post as director of the WPBSA. Explaining "it is not enough to just have integrity in such a position you must also be seen to have integrity" he explained further that "this was not possible given the manner in which this allegation has been reported"[29] Higgins subsequently issued a statement denying he had ever been involved in match fixing, and said of the meeting, "I didn't know if this was the Russian mafia or who we were dealing with. At that stage I felt the best course of action was just to play along with these guys and get out of Russia".[30] Mooney also said "we were genuinely in fear for our safety".[31]

Pakistan cricket spot-fixing controversy[edit]

Mahmood's name came under the limelight once again when, in August 2010, he posed as an Indian businessman to expose a cricket bookie by the name of Mazhar Majeed who claimed Pakistani cricketers Mohammad Amir, Mohammad Asif, Salman Butt and Kamran Akmal had committed spot-fixing during Pakistan's 2010 tour of England; the team was accused of deliberately bowling three no-balls, in an incident that veteran Richie Benaud described as the most distressing revelation in his 52 years of watching cricket.[32]

Royal targets[edit]

Mahmood's targets include various society figures, including Sophie, Countess of Wessex in 2001[33] and more recently Sarah, Duchess of York in 2010.[34]

Drugs[edit]

Mahmood reported the revelations that John Alford was supplying cocaine, for which he was imprisoned. Alford claimed entrapment and demanded Mahmood's arrest. The trial judge observed that "entrapment had clearly played a significant part in what he did, but greed had also been a major factor."[35] However, when Alford appealed to the High Court and the European Court of Human Rights, the appeals were rejected.

Criticism[edit]

Mahmood's methods have often been criticised. In addition to Greenslade's campaign, politician George Galloway has also sought to challenge him,[7][13][36] while some lawyers have complained that Mahmood has sometimes broken the law without clear public interest justification.[10]

In 1999, after a Mahmood investigation exposed the Earl of Hardwicke and another man as drug dealers,[37] the jury sent a note to the judge explaining that they had reached their decision to convict the two men with great reluctance. They said that they would have acquitted the defendants if the law had enabled them to take into account Mahmood's "extreme provocation" of them to sell him cocaine. The judge agreed and passed suspended sentences.[11][13]

Plot to kidnap Victoria Beckham[edit]

In 2003, Mahmood was responsible for reporting an alleged plot to kidnap Victoria Beckham to the police. The subsequent trial collapsed after it emerged that Mahmood's main informant, Florim Gashi had been paid £10,000 and could not be considered a reliable witness, and was later deported from the UK.[38][39] Judge Simon Smith referred the News of the World's role in the affair to the Attorney General.[13] One of the men involved later sued the News of the World for libel but lost.[40]

Dirty bomb[edit]

In 2004, Mahmood led an investigation into exposing the creation of a dirty bomb through the supply of the fictitious substance red mercury to three men from a supposed terrorist group. Mahmood was registered as an informant for the Metropolitan Police Anti-Terrorist Branch during the story, which led to a criminal case prosecution by the Crown Prosecution Service. The case, signed off by the Attorney General, collapsed in July 2006.[7]

Tulisa Contostavlos[edit]

On 21 July 2014 the trial of the singer-songwriter and former X-Factor Judge Tulisa Contostavlos, brought about by a Mahmood drugs sting operation, collapsed.

Jeremy Dein QC, for the defence, accused Mahmood of active duplicity in some stories. To support this he called a former Mahmood associate, Florim Gashi, who told the court he helped the reporter "make up stories for his newspaper".[41]

Judge Alistair McCreath told Southwark Crown Court he thought prosecution witness Mazher Mahmood had lied in giving evidence. Explaining his decision to halt the trial Judge McCreath said: "Where there has been some aspect of the investigation or prosecution of a crime which is tainted in some way by serious misconduct to the point that the integrity of the court would be compromised by allowing the trial to go ahead, in that sense the court would be seen to be sanctioning or colluding in that sort of behaviour, then the court has no alternative but to say 'This case must go no further'."[42] The Sun on Sunday announced that Mahmood had been suspended. Mazher Mahmood posed as a film producer to Ms. Contostavlos offering her a £3.5 million deal to star in a Bollywood/ Hollywood film about a girl from the ghetto trying to become a pop star. Mr Mahmood went to extreme lengths to entrap Ms.Contostavlos. [43]

References[edit]

  1. ^ "Leveson Inquiry: Tabloid journalists defend paper", BBC News, 12 December 2011
  2. ^ a b c Mahmood, Mazher (1 September 2008). Confessions of a Fake Sheik: "The King of the Sting" Reveals All. Harper Collins. ISBN 0-00-728809-3. 
  3. ^ Burrell, Ian (21 August 2012). "Fake Sheikh's editor fails to find evidence for his grand claim to Leveson". The Independent. Retrieved 22 August 2012. 
  4. ^ Ian Burrell (2014-07-24). "Tulisa Contostavlos drugs trial collapse - CPS to investigate Fake Sheikh's credibility as witness - Crime - UK". The Independent. Retrieved 2014-08-03. 
  5. ^ a b c Peter Burden (2009). News Of The World Fake Sheikhs And Royal Trappings. Eye Books. ISBN 1-903070-72-4. 
  6. ^ Maitlis, Emily (31 August 2008). "Investigative journalism strangled". BBC News. Retrieved 22 May 2010. 
  7. ^ a b c d Gallagher, Rachael (9 May 2008). "Secrets of the fake sheik Mazher Mahmood". Press Gazette. Retrieved 22 May 2010. 
  8. ^ Pfanner, Eric (16 April 2006). "Exposé backfires on 'fake sheik' of tabloids". The New York Times. 
  9. ^ The real reason that Mazher Mahmood left the Sunday Times under a cloud, Roy Greenslade, The Guardian, 14 December 2011
  10. ^ a b c "Reporter's string of scoops". BBC News. 15 January 2006. Retrieved 22 May 2010. 
  11. ^ a b Greenslade, Roy (16 April 2006). "Why I am out to nail Mazher Mahmood". The Independent (London). Retrieved 22 May 2010. 
  12. ^ 3/30/2006 07:22:00 pm (2006-03-30). "Obsolete: The fake Sheikh exposed: Mazher Mahmood and the Dirty Digger foiled by Galloway". Septicisle.info. Retrieved 2014-08-03. 
  13. ^ a b c d "The dirty digger". The Daily Telegraph (London). 8 June 2003. Retrieved 22 May 2010. 
  14. ^ a b Brown, Jonathan (3 June 2003). "The award-winning 'fake sheikh' who terrifies the rich and famous". The Independent (London). Retrieved 2 March 2010. 
  15. ^ "MP Galloway 'exposes fake sheikh'". BBC News. 7 April 2006. Retrieved 12 May 2010. 
  16. ^ [1][dead link]
  17. ^ Gibson, Owen (7 April 2006). "Paper drops appeal to keep anonymity of undercover reporter". The Guardian (London). Retrieved 12 May 2010. 
  18. ^ "Exposing the 'Fake Sheikh'". George Galloway. 7 April 2006. Archived from the original on 7 April 2006. Retrieved 10 November 2010. 
  19. ^ Stuart, Julia (17 July 2002). "Antonia De Sancha: I kissed, I told, and then...". The Independent (London). 
  20. ^ Ferguson, Euan (3 November 2002). "He's behind you...". The Guardian (London). 
  21. ^ "1992: Mellor resigns over sex scandal". BBC News. 24 September 1992. 
  22. ^ Wynn Davies, Patricia; Boggan, Steve (6 January 1994). "The Yeo Resignation: Local party ousts Yeo: Whips blame MP for failing to reconcile constituency to his problems after fathering child in an affair". The Independent (London). 
  23. ^ Woolf, Marie (13 November 2003). "After 36 years, Yeo asks the daughter he gave away to contact him". The Independent (London). 
  24. ^ Summers, Chris (25 July 2006). "Is this the end for 'fake sheikh'?". BBC News. Retrieved 12 May 2010. 
  25. ^ Brook, Stephen (25 July 2006). "Terror plot accused walk free". The Guardian (London). Retrieved 12 May 2010. 
  26. ^ Kelso, Paul (28 July 2003). "Fashanu denies new match-fixing story after investigator claims latest sting". The Guardian (London). Retrieved 12 May 2010. 
  27. ^ "Eriksson to quit after world cup". BBC sport. 23 January 2006. Retrieved 7 July 2007. 
  28. ^ Macfarlane, Jo (4 April 2010). "Joe Calzaghe's cocaine, jealousy and betrayal". Daily Mail (London). Retrieved 22 May 2010. 
  29. ^ "Snooker champion John Higgins in 'bribe' allegation". BBC Sport. 2 May 2010. Retrieved 22 May 2010. 
  30. ^ Dave Middleton (2 May 2010). "John Higgins: 'My conscience is 100% clear' after bribery allegations". The Guardian (London). Retrieved 2 May 2010. 
  31. ^ "John Higgins suspended in snooker bribe probe". BBC News. 2 May 2010. Retrieved 2 May 2010. 
  32. ^ Benaud, Richie (28 August 2010). "SAD DAY FOR MY GAME". The News of the World. 
  33. ^ "Palace denies reports of Sophie insults". BBC News. 2 April 2001. 
  34. ^ Mahmood, Mazher (23 May 2010). "Duchess of York Sarah Ferguson plots to sell access to Prince Andrew". The News of the World. 
  35. ^ "Alford jailed for nine months". BBC News. 26 May 1999. Retrieved 12 May 2010. 
  36. ^ "Roy Greenslade & News International". The Guardian (London). Retrieved 22 May 2010. 
  37. ^ Labi, Aisha (10 November 2002). "A Wolf in Sheik's Clothing". Time Magazine/CNN. Retrieved 22 May 2010. 
  38. ^ "Beckham 'kidnap' case collapses". BBC News. 2 June 2003. Retrieved 12 May 2010. 
  39. ^ Higham, Nick (3 June 2003). "Chequebook journalism in the dock". BBC News. Retrieved 12 May 2010. 
  40. ^ "Beckham 'kidnap' man loses case". BBC News. 4 May 2005. Retrieved 12 May 2010. 
  41. ^ Tulisa Contostavlos trial collapses over Mazher Mahmood's evidence, Peter Walker and Hatty Collier, The Guardian 21 July 2014
  42. ^ What the judge said in collapsing the Tulisa trial, Roy Greenslade, The Guardian 21 July 2014
  43. ^ "Mazher Mahmood could face perjury investigation after Tulisa trial collapse" (in German). Retrieved 2014-07-22. 

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