London, Sep 3 (IANS): The three Pakistani cricketers, who are at the centre of an alleged betting scam, were provisionally suspended by the International Cricket Council (ICC) Thursday night after being charged under the anti-corruption code.
After a day that began with the Pakistan Cricket Board agreeing to omit the players from the team for the rest of the England tour, and the Pakistan high commissioner saying the newspaper claims were a "set-up", the ICC suspended the three pending a tribunal, The Guardian reported.
Outside the west London hotel in which the tainted trio -- Test captain Salman Butt and pacers Mohammad Asif and Mohammad Aamer -- are also staying, ICC chief executive Haroon Lorgat provided the swift action.
"We will not tolerate corruption in cricket - simple as that. We must be decisive with such matters and, if proven, these offences carry serious penalties up to a life ban," he was quoted as saying by the paper.
"The ICC will do everything possible to keep such conduct out of the game and we will stop at nothing to protect the sport's integrity. While we believe the problem is not widespread, we must always be vigilant. It is important, however, that we do not pre-judge the guilt of these three players. That is for the independent tribunal alone to decide."
Under tougher new rules brought in last year by the ICC, the players can be suspended provisionally ahead of any hearing if it is in the interests of the game.
The row was triggered by allegations in the News of the World that the three had agreed to bowl no-balls in specific overs of last week's fourth Test at Lord's in return for money.
The charges were announced after officials from the ICC's anti-corruption and security unit (ACSU) spent the afternoon at Scotland Yard viewing evidence and seeking police go-ahead. The police are conducting a parallel criminal inquiry.
The three players will Friday be interviewed under police caution for the first time. Earlier they had agreed to withdraw from the rest of the tour citing the "mental torture" they had been placed under by the allegations. They protested their innocence and the Pakistani high commissioner suggested they might have been "set up" by the News of the World.
ICC investigators, who had been examining spot-fixing allegations against Pakistan for some time, have been in London since Monday. Sir Ronnie Flanagan, the former Northern Ireland police chief who was appointed chairman of the ACSU three months ago, arrived from Abu Dhabi to join them, while its chief investigator, Ravi Sawani, met police.
But despite withdrawing the players from the tour, following pressure behind the scenes from the England and Wales Cricket Board and the sport's global governing body, the Pakistan camp remained bullish.
Pakistan's High Commissioner Wajid Shamsul Hasan claimed the players had been "set up" by the News of the World. Asked if they had been framed, he answered "yes" and suggested the newspaper's video evidence could have been filmed after the contentious no-balls had been bowled.
The News of the World said it "refuses to respond to such ludicrous allegations". The newspaper is understood to be preparing further revelations for Sunday.