(Adds newspaper comment)
By Michael Holden
LONDON Oct 5 Mazher Mahmood, one of Britain's
best known undercover reporters renowned for his "fake sheikh"
sting operations, was facing jail on Wednesday after being
convicted of plotting to alter evidence in a high-profile court
case where he was the main witness.
Mahmood, whose elaborate disguises have duped criminals,
celebrities, sporting figures and even royalty, conspired to
alter a police statement during the drugs prosecution of Tulisa
Contostavlos, a singer and former judge of the British version
of the "X Factor" TV talent show.
Contostavlos was set to go on trial accused of supplying
cocaine for Mahmood who was posing as an influential Indian film
producer and later wrote up the story as an exclusive for the
Sun on Sunday newspaper.
Prosecutors said Mahmood, 53, had conspired with his driver
Alan Smith to alter a statement given to police in which Smith
said Contostavlos had spoken out against drugs on an occasion
when he drove her home, making her conviction less likely.
London's Old Bailey court was told Mahmood had a vested
interest in her being found guilty as his own integrity was at
stake. The case against Contostavlos collapsed in July 2014
after questions arose about Smith's evidence.
Both men, who denied any plot but declined to give evidence
at their trial, were found guilty of conspiracy to pervert the
course of justice and will be sentenced at a later date.
"Mahmood portrayed himself as the master of subterfuge and
as the 'King of the Sting', but on this occasion it is he and Mr
Smith who have been exposed," said Simon Ringrose from the Crown
Mahmood is the latest journalist to have been convicted of
committing a crime while working for media mogul Rupert
Murdoch's British papers following the 2014 conviction of senior
staff at the defunct News of the World tabloid for hacking the
voicemails on mobile phones.
Mahmood, who always featured in papers with his face
obscured, made his name at the News of the World and built a
formidable reputation for his stings, once claiming his
investigations had led to 253 successful prosecutions.
He carried out the inquiry which led to the 2011 conviction
of three Pakistani cricketers for taking bribes to fix incidents
in a match against England.
In his most famous exclusive in 2001, he posed as an Arab
sheikh to dupe Sophie, Countess of Wessex, who is married to
Queen Elizabeth's youngest son Prince Edward, into making
indiscreet comments about other royals and senior politicians.
Rebekah Brooks, the chief executive of News Corp.'s British
newspaper arm News UK who was charged over phone hacking and
cleared, told her trial Mahmood was an incredibly professional
journalist whose subterfuge was always in the public interest.
But his stings have also led to other high-profile
prosecutions which have collapsed, including the case against
five men accused of plotting to kidnap singer-turned-designer
Victoria Beckham in 2002 after it was revealed the main witness
had been paid by the News of the World.
A spokesman for News UK said they were disappointed by the
conviction but had no further comment.
After Wednesday's verdict, media lawyer Mark Lewis said he
had been instructed by 18 individuals caught by Mahmood's stings
to take civil action against him.
(editing by Stephen Addison)