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British sting specialist stung in court

- Paper suspends ‘fake sheikh’ reporter who blew lid off cricket scandal
Tulisa Contostavlos

London, July 28: Mazher Mahmood, the UK journalist who has occasionally posed as an Indian and has earned fame and notoriety in equal measure with audacious sting operations over the past couple of decades, has been suspended by his paper after a judge alleged the reporter had lied under oath.

Leonardo DiCaprio, whose name Mahmood cited as a possible co-star to lure Tulisa

Mahmood’s current employer, the Rupert Murdoch-owned The Sun on Sunday, is carrying out an internal inquiry following comments by the judge.

Mahmood — who does not smoke, drink or take drugs though he has exposed human failings among celebrities — was born in Small Heath, Birmingham in 1963, the second of two sons of Sultan and Shamim Mahmood, journalists from Pakistan who had come to Britain three years earlier.

As an investigative reporter with the News of the World, Mahmood earned the nickname, the “Fake Sheikh”, because of his proclivity for dressing up in Arab attire and fooling gullible folk that he had plenty of money to give away.

Royalty was fair game. He persuaded Sophie, Countess of Wessex who is married to Prince Edward — the Queen’s youngest son — to make indiscreet remarks about the monarch simply by promising to give an absurdly high fee for nominal public relations work.

Mahmood has never told a would-be victim he was Pakistani. However, he has often claimed to be a Bollywood producer simply looking to cast someone in an upcoming film.

The News of the World was only too willing to give Mahmood all the cash he wanted so he could present a credible figure as a rich man living in five-star hotels and able to wine and dine his would-be clients in opulent manner.

In August 2010, he posed as an Indian businessman from “Tata Equity” 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. He handed over bundles of cash.

Most recently, he pretended to be a Bollywood film producer, Samir Khan, who could offer singer-songwriter Tulisa Contostavlos, a judge in a TV reality show, a major film role.

The Sun report on Tulisa, whom Mahmood had promised to cast in a film

He met her at a string of luxury hotels and restaurants and promised a leading role in a Slumdog Millionaire-type film tipped for Oscar glory alongside possible co-star Leonardo DiCaprio. The 26-year-old fell for it — and agreed in return to put “Samir” in touch with someone who could supply Class A drugs.

But Tulisa’s trial has been Mahmood’s undoing.

Appearing in the witness box behind a screen to protect his identity, Mahmood said he used “subterfuge” when he secretly recorded meetings with Tulisa as he attempted to establish whether she was involved in drugs.

“The motive here is in public interest to expose criminality,” he said. “Of course, I’m a journalist and stories are what I do for a living. That’s not the reason I did it.”

Tulisa’s barrister Jeremy Dein QC said: “You misled her, didn’t you?”

Mahmood replied: “You can’t mislead somebody into supplying cocaine.”

By this time, the trial judge at Southwark Crown Court, Alistair McCreath, had had enough of Mahmood. He decided the reporter and the main prosecution had been lying and ended the trial.

Explaining his decision 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.’ ”

A statement from the newspaper read: “We are very disappointed with this outcome, but do believe the original investigation was conducted within the bounds of the law and the industry’s code. This was demonstrated by the CPS (Crown Prosecution Service) decision to prosecute. The Sun, of course, takes the judge’s remarks very seriously. Mr Mahmood has been suspended pending an immediate internal investigation.”

The Crown Prosecution Service is going back over 30 cases which had relied heavily on Mahmood’s investigations.