LONDON: Mohammad Asif, one of the cricketers at the centre of the fixing scandal, is considering making a claim for political asylum in Britain to avoid returning to a potentially violent backlash in Pakistan.
The Pakistan bowler held a 35-minute meeting with an immigration lawyer last Friday, a local newspaper told, and said he feared the allegations of fixing certain events in a recent Test match against England could make him the target of dangerous criminal gangs linked to the illegal betting underworld.
The cricketer is said to have asked the lawyer what would be a way to stay in Britain. He went on to discuss the asylum process with the solicitor, from London firm Malik and Malik.
The news will cause consternation among cricket authorities, who are engulfed in one of the worst crises the sport has faced. It will also be met with anger in Pakistan, where the players have been pilloried by the public and media.
Asif suggested he would await the results of investigations by Scotland Yard and the International Cricket Council, to which he expressed his innocence, before taking the asylum claim further. The criminal charges carry a potential jail term and the ICC could ban him for life from the sport.
Immigration experts said Asif could present a viable case if he were able to prove his life was in danger and that the Pakistan authorities were unable or unwilling to protect him.
The 27-year-old fast bowler asked an intermediary to arrange a meeting with the lawyer in London last week, and the meeting apparently took place in a Pakistani restaurant in Southall, west London, on Friday. ďHe didnít say anything about asylum at first,Ē said the lawyer, who spoke on condition of anonymity. ďHe just said, 'whatís the way to stay?í Then we told him thereís the student way Ė you can come here to study Ė or you can apply for a work permit. But then he asked about asylum.Ē
Asif was said to have looked ďvery anxiousĒ and was accompanied by an unidentified older man. ďI think heís just worried about the backlash at home Ė thatís what he told me,Ē the solicitor said. ďThereís been a lot of talk and there are undercover betting mafias with a lot of power Ė that seemed to be what he was worried about.Ē
At one stage the meeting was interrupted by a fan asking Asif for an autograph. The cricketer left with a copy of an advice leaflet setting out British immigration law. ďIf he wants to go forward then we will see what we can do for him,Ē the solicitor said.
It is rare for Pakistanis to be granted asylum. In 2009, only 65 were given shelter in Britain, Home Office figures show. One leading immigration lawyer, who did not wish to be named, said Asif could apply for refugee status if he first proved ďa well-founded fear of being persecutedĒ by a gang who were out to cause him harm. He would then have to argue that the Pakistan state would not protect him.
Asif, Mohammed Amir and Salman Butt were all questioned under caution by Metropolitan Police detectives earlier this week over text messages, phone calls and secret bank accounts linked to the alleged fixing of certain events in the match against England.
Amir is alleged to have deliberately bowled a no-ball in the Fourth Test at Lordís on the orders of Mazhar Majeed, an agent and businessman.
It has emerged that Asif comes from a poor family but has four homes, including an Italianate mansion in Lahore. He has been dogged by doping controversies since testing positive for the anabolic steroid Nandrolone in 2006, and remains barred from travelling to the United Arab Emirates after he was deported from the country in 2008 for possessing drugs.
The reaction to the fixing allegations in Pakistan has been acute, with cricket fans pelting donkeys daubed with the playersí names. In a court in Lahore, a local lawyer filed a case of treason against the accused players, calling for life bans and confiscation of all the playersí assets if they were found guilty.
The Pakistan High Commission refused to comment and the manager of the Pakistan team said he was not aware of Asif seeking asylum.