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, The Daily Telegraph has learnt, 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. “He didn’t say anything about asylum at first,” said the lawyer, who spoke on condition of anonymity. “He just said, ‘what’s the way to stay?’ Then we told him there’s the student way – you can come here to study – or you can apply for a work permit. But then he asked about asylum.”
Asif was said to have looked “very anxious” and was accompanied by an unidentified older man. “I think he’s just worried about the backlash at home – that’s what he told me,” the solicitor said. “There’s been a lot of talk and there are undercover betting mafias with a lot of power – that seemed to be what he was worried about.”
It is rare for Pakistanis to be granted asylum. In 2009, only 65 were given shelter in Britain, Home Office figures show.