LONDON: British undercover journalist Mazher Mahmood, known for his “Fake Sheikh” disguise and string of celebrity tabloid stings, was found guilty Wednesday of perverting the course of justice.
Mahmood, who conceals his identity after a series of alleged death threats, is famous for his front-page scoops in which he poses as a wealthy figure from the Gulf and encourages celebrities into making embarrassing revelations.
Mahmood, 53, and his driver Alan Smith, 66, were convicted of conspiring to pervert the course of justice following a trial at England’s Old Bailey central criminal court in London.
A jury found they plotted to suppress evidence in the collapsed 2014 drugs trial of British pop singer and TV star Tulisa Contostavlos, which resulted from a Mahmood sting.
In a typically elaborate operation, Mahmood posed a film producer and offered Contostavlos a Hollywood career and a movie role alongside star Leonardo DiCaprio.
She was accused of arranging for Mahmood, who dubbed himself “King of the Sting”, to be sold cocaine by one of her contacts.
In a statement to police, Smith said the singer had made anti-drugs comments in the car — which could have proved helpful to her lawyers in the case.
Smith emailed Mahmood the statement and spoke to the reporter, after which Smith removed the comments from his statement.
As this emerged, the Contostavlos trial collapsed and prosecutors turned their attention to Mahmood and Smith.
The pair will be sentenced on October 21.
Mahmood’s list of sting targets include several members of the royal family, sports stars and TV celebrities including the Pakistan cricket trio, Amir, Asif and Salman Butt.
British prosecutors have since dropped a number of live criminal cases in which Mahmood was due to be a witness and announced a review of 25 past convictions.
The Criminal Cases Review Commission is currently reviewing six cases involving celebrities who were convicted following involvement with Mahmood.
Fake Sheikh’s five biggest stings
Here are some of the self-styled King of the Sting’s biggest hits:
Sophie, Countess of Wessex
In 2001, Mahmood stung Sophie, the wife of Queen Elizabeth II’s youngest son Prince Edward, with an approach to her public relations firm.
She referred to then prime minister Tony Blair as “president” because of his ambitions, referring to his “frightening” tax rises and “horrid” wife.
She also claimed former prime minister John Major “used the royal family terribly badly” to cover his own problems.
Sophie was forced to quit her PR job to prevent a conflict of interest after appearing to fuse together her royal status and her work life in her comments.
In 2010, Mahmood posed as a middleman to expose three Pakistan cricketers for taking money to fix parts of a Test match against England so that shadowy South Asian betting rings could make a fortune.
As a result of the revelations, Pakistan captain Salman Butt was jailed for 30 months, Mohammad Asif for one year and Mohammad Amir for six months.
Amir resumed his international career earlier this year after serving a five-year ban from the game.
Sarah, Duchess of York
The debt-troubled ex-wife of Queen Elizabeth II’s second son Prince Andrew was caught out in 2010 taking $40,000 for access to her ex-husband, then a British trade envoy.
“That opens up everything you would ever wish for… I can open any door you want, and I will for you. Look after me and he’ll look after you… you’ll get it back tenfold,” she was heard saying.
In 2006 the Fake Sheikh garb came out again for the England football manager, this time in Dubai. The Swede urged the undercover reporter to take over Aston Villa Football Club and said he was prepared to become their manager.
He said he would quit if England won the World Cup, revealed star striker Michael Owen was unhappy at Newcastle, said David Beckham could not see his career improving at Real Madrid and branded Rio Ferdinand “lazy”.
Eriksson said some managers “put money in their pocket” in transfer deals.
The snooker world champion was stung at a 2010 tournament in Ukraine, in an operation which claimed the Scot agreed to lose specific frames for money.
Higgins claimed he feared he was dealing with the Russian mafia and played along with Mahmood for his own safety. He was banned and fined for not reporting the approach.