Hong Kong cricket star Irfan Ahmed faces sanctions after being charged with anti-corruption offence
The 26-year-old all-rounder is accused of failing to report an approach by a match fixer involved with the Lou Vincent case
The International Cricket Council on Monday confirmed that it has charged and provisionally suspended Hong Kong all-rounder Irfan Ahmed for an anti-corruption offence following the 26-year-old’s failure to report an approach by a match-fixer involved in the case of disgraced New Zealand batsman Lou Vincent.
A report on ICC-cricket.com says: "In accordance with the terms of the code, a disciplinary process is currently under way and the ICC is not able to make any further comment on the matter pending the outcome of the disciplinary process."
Irfan, who is due to feature at the World Twenty20 championship in India in March and is a former Hong Kong cricketer of the year, faces a possible ban of between two and five years if found guilty before an International Cricket Council tribunal of an allegation he failed to report to authorities an offer made to him by an alleged match-fixer, The Sydney Morning Herald reported.
Irfan's batting performances were one of the highlights at the recent world Twenty20 qualifiers and went a long way to helping Hong Kong qualify for a second successive World Twenty20 championship.
The Sydney Morning Herald website report said Irfan was approached by one of the same alleged fixers who paid Vincent to corrupt county matches in England.
Hong Kong Cricket Association chief executive Tim Cutler said on Monday night that the HKCA was unable to provide any comment with respect to any matter that comes under the auspices of the ICC’s anti-corruption code.
“We are firmly committed to upholding the integrity of our sport and we fully support the ICC’s broadened concern around this grave threat to the soul of cricket,” Cutler said.
“We must always put player welfare at the centre of our concerns and no matter what, there is a young man here who needs to be our immediate concern and we will be there for any support we can offer.”
Irfan, whose batting exploits were largely responsible for Hong Kong gaining one-day international status in 2014, has retained Hong Kong-based Australian barrister Kevin Egan to defend him.
READ MORE: Chris Cairns ordered me to fix cricket matches, New Zealander Lou Vincent tells English court
In the Herald report, Egan played down the seriousness of the charge, saying Irfan 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 [Irfan] 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.”
The Herald report said the former Pakistani cricketer who had struck up a close bond with Irfan was believed to be Nasem Gulzar, who did not represent Pakistan.
Gulzar, who left Hong Kong several years ago, is believed to have nurtured Irfan while playing local cricket.
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.
Vincent also had a brief spell as batting coach of the Hong Kong team.
Irfan’s case could also have far wider reaching implications with the ICC anti-corruption unit, which is understood to be continuing a probe into the reach of illegal bookmaking networks, and in particular their targeting of players in associate nations.
Irfan, 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.
Hong Kong 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.
According to the Herald report, under the ICC anti-corruption code, and the codes of member bodies, 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 anti-corruption unit matters.
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, the Herald report said.
Hong Kong’s nine contracted players, for instance, earn between HK$9,000 and HK$11,000 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,” Flanagan said.
“For the bad guys to succeed they want an event that is televised then they can go about their illegal betting.”