Rupert Murdoch And The Fake Sheik
MAZHER "FAKE SHEIK" MAHMOOD finally fell to earth in July last year.
He was dramatically exposed as a liar in the trial of the singer Tulisa Contostavlos after she was caught in a drugs sting by the Sun.
The case collapsed and police launched Operation Silverhawk to see if the lie amounted to perjury.
Mahmood was suspended — and hasn't worked since.
The Crown Prosecution Service is still considering a file on the matter.
All of this could have been avoided if a senior Rupert Murdoch executive in New York had acted on the warning email I sent him in May 2012.
The executive — Jack Horner, Vice President of Corporate Affairs — did not reply.
It seems Rupert Murdoch has a soft spot for his Fake Sheik — and will protect him at all costs.
One man who doesn't appear to have any affection for Mahmood is former News of the World editor Piers Morgan.
It seems Morgan — editor in 1994 and 1995 — has little time for the Fake Sheik.
I'm investigating a suggestion that Mahmood was caught using unethical practices that even Morgan couldn't stomach.
This is for the unauthorised biography of Piers Morgan — A Pretty Despicable Man — which Byline is trying to raise £5,000 to publish.
"250 Evil Crooks"
WHEN THE News of the World published its final edition in July 2011, the paper was repentant.
It admitted that "some who worked for us, or in our name, fell shamelessly short" of the paper's "high standards".
But it was also defiant, proclaiming itself the "World's Greatest Newspaper". And one reporter was singled out for special praise — Investigations Editor Mazher Mahmood.
The final edition devoted pages 4 and 5 to his triumphs: "We've saved children from paedos & nailed 250 evil crooks," it boasted.
Mahmood said he knew nothing about phone hacking:
"As Investigations Editor, there is part of me that feels that I should have known what was going on"
"However, I concentrated on exposing wrongdoing outside my office — never imagining that danger lurked within."
THIS ARTICLE is part of a long investigation into Mazher Mahmood by the Press Gang website [pressganguk].
This was hypocrisy on a breathtaking scale. One of the most dangerous reporters on the paper was Mahmood himself.
Even in his final piece, he couldn't resist lying about the scale of his achievements. "I clocked up more than 250 successful prosecutions," he said.
When I read that, I wondered if it could really be true.
But I just put it down to tabloid hype — and forgot about it.
Lying To Leveson
ALL THAT changed when Mahmood went into the witness box at the Leveson Inquiry in December 2011.
He took the oath on the Koran.
Now he was duty-bound to tell the truth about his track record.
But he didn't come up with a reduced figure. He actually went further.
"The total has gone up to 261 ..." he said. And, he added, with another two convictions awaiting sentence, the figure would rise to 263.
At that point, I thought it was time to put the claim to the test.
I have some experience in this area. In the 1970s I edited the Welsh magazine Rebecca which investigated corruption in South Wales councils.
These articles — published in the magazine's Corruption Supplement — named about a dozen politicians and businessmen who were later convicted.
(Note that I don't claim to have nailed them — I don't know what, if anything, Rebecca contributed to the process.)
My articles took months to write and the police inquiries took years to complete. So I know how long these investigations can take.
Of course, Mahmood specialises in stings generating apparently high quality evidence police can use to prosecute.
Even so, the sting operations themselves are time-consuming and not all of them involve law-breaking.
In 2012 my colleague Chris Nichols and I went through every article Mazher Mahmood had written in the News of the World. It quickly became clear Mahmood's claims were bogus.
He — and editors Rebekah Brooks and Andy Coulson — had inflated the number of convictions. The aim was simply to burnish his reputation — and with it, the News of the World's.
PIERS MORGAN, Rebekah Brooks and Andy Coulson have all been editors of the News of the World during Mazher Mahmood's time at the paper. Brooks and Coulson were both party to inflating the number of Mahmood's convictions. But Piers Morgan does not appear to have been a fan ...
By the time we'd finished our work, we could only find reports of 70 individuals who'd been convicted.
A handful of these were worthy targets but most were simply petty criminals portrayed as evil masterminds.
Our trawl of the News of the World investigation also uncovered other unsavoury aspects of Mahmood's operations.
In September 1996, for example, Mahmood published a story about a fake passport racket in Bradford.
The gang bought legitimate passports and then used them to bring illegal immigrants in from the Continent.
Mahmood wrote that one of the gang was "a local thug called Mehmood, known as "Jaws" because he has gold teeth studded with diamonds."
It didn't take long to work out that this "Jaws" was, in fact, Mazher Mahmood's second cousin Mahmood Qureshi.
He later went on to become the Fake Sheik's bodyguard.
"Jaws" also turned out to have a long criminal record that started in 1982 and did not end until 1999 — long after he'd started working with his second cousin.
I submitted a statement to the Leveson Inquiry pointing out that Mahmood had employed an active criminal — and had not told the truth under oath.
Doctoring The Evidence
BY THAT time, the Mazher Mahmood was working at the Sunday Times.
Editor John Witherow said "we checked him out very carefully ... "
I wrote to Witherow telling him of the results of our investigation.
Initially, he didn't reply but when Channel 4's Michael Crick started to take an interest, he said:
"We are indeed doing a thorough investigation into the number that Mazher supplied. I will examine the results and decide what to do when I know the outcome."
Meanwhile Mahmood was already up to his old devious ways at the Sunday Times.
I say "old" because he'd worked for the Sunday Times in the 1980s.
He told Leveson that he resigned from the paper in 1988 because of a disagreement with the paper.
Roy Greenslade, the Sunday Times Managing Editor (News) at the time, wrote to Leveson saying this was untrue.
A FORMER senior executive at the Sunday Times in 1988, Greenslade handled the scandal when Mazher Mahmood was caught hacking into the paper's computer system. He later exposed Mahmood as a liar at the Leveson Inquiry.
In a statement, Greenslade said Mahmood had been caught doctoring a report — and had hacked computer records to cover his tracks.
He was about to be sacked by editor Andrew Neil when he resigned.
Mahmood was hauled back before Leveson and admitted Greenslade's version was correct.
So the paper knew Mahmood was a liar.
So did Witherow. He'd been a Sunday Times reporter in 1988 so he was aware of Mahmood's toxic track record at the paper.
This was the man Witherow took on in August 2011.
In April 2012 Mahmood had a front page splash about female genital mutilation (FGM).
Mahmood and reporter Eleanor Mills had caught a doctor and a dentist "offering to circumcise girls as young as 10 ..."
An unnamed woman journalist worked with Mazher Mahmood on the story.
She posed as a woman who wanted her nieces to have the operation.
The doctor sent her to the dentist who, allegedly, agreed to carry it out.
The two health professionals were arrested.
But soon the case began to unravel.
The Crown Prosecutor for the East Midlands, Harry Ireland, declined to prosecute.
"The main evidence in this case," he noted, "is from the undercover journalist or agent but she has consistently failed to sign her draft statement for the police despite being given every opportunity to do so over the past five months."
He also noted discrepancies between her statement and the evidence from the secret camera she'd used.
At one point, these tapes show the two men refusing to help her.
"I am also troubled by the fact that the covert recordings disclose a time gap which is insufficiently accounted for when the undercover journalist or agent apparently went with one of the doctors [the dentist] from the surgery to his home."
Later, during a General Dental Council (GDC) disciplinary hearing, it became clear that the "journalist or agent" had disappeared into the dentist's bedroom for over an hour.
The QC representing the GDC was blunt:
"It appears he and the journalist have sexual intercourse."
He added: "We may form the view that the journalist had gone to extra lengths to get her story."
The Sunday Times said the "journalist or agent" denied having sex with the dentist.
I put the following question to Sunday Times reporter Eleanor Mills:
"The central allegation hovering throughout this story is that you and Mahmood either encouraged, permitted or tolerated a woman working for you to prostitute herself in order to persuade the dentist to offer to carry out FGM."
Mills didn't reply.
Mahmood remained in his post.
BUT THE Leveson Inquiry did act.
As soon as they got my statement, solicitors acting for the Inquiry wrote to Mahmood asking for clarification of his conviction rate.
And, finally, some of the truth began to emerge.
THE INQUIRY ordered Mazher Mahmood to explain the discrepancy between his figure of successful criminal prosecutions and the much lower figure found by Chris Nichols and Paddy French.
Witherow had tasked the lawfirm Linklaters to carry out the examination of Mahmood's claim.
In July 2012 Mazher Mahmood submitted a statement admitting Linklaters had been able to find records of only 94 successful prosecutions.
That's 24 more than Chris Nichols and I found in our trawl of the News of the World.
But it was massively below Mahmood's 263 figure.
Mahmood had lied under oath.
The New York Connection
BY THIS time Rupert Murdoch had taken steps to shore up the tottering reputation of his British titles.
In July 2011 he'd set up a new Management and Standards Committee (MSC) in an effort to improve journalistic standards across his UK newspapers.
In May 2012 I emailed one of News Corp's most senior executives at his New York office asking him to pass the results of my inquiries to the MSC.
This was Jack Horner, Vice President of Corporate Affairs and Communications, who was also playing a key role in fire-fighting the growing phone hacking scandal in the UK.
I sent him the article which revealed that Mahmood had lied about his conviction rate.
"I am sure that the possibility that a senior News International journalist may have committed perjury before Lord Leveson will disturb the MSC as much as it disturbs me," I wrote.
"I would be grateful if you would pass this material onto the relevant MSC people so that they can take up this issue as a matter of urgency."
"I would be grateful for an acknowledgement of this email."
I never received one.
I never heard from the MSC.
I also copied in John Witherow at the Sunday Times.
He didn't reply either.
Mazher Mahmood stayed at the Sunday Times before moving over to the SunonSunday.
In June 2013 he caught the singer Tulisa Contostavlos in an expensive, elaborate sting, persuading her to help him get cocaine.
The story was the front page lead.
Bur when the case came to court last July, it collapsed after Mahmood was caught lying in the witness box.
He claimed on oath that he hadn't discussed a police statement with his driver. The driver , however, said that he had ...
This Crown Prosecution Service told me its lawyers are still considering the file on Mazher Mahmood.
The Morgan — Mahmood Mystery
Piers Morgan was Mazher Mahmoud's editor at the News of the World in 1994-1995.
In Morgan's memoirs The Insider there is no mention of Mahmood.
In Mahmood's biography — Confessions Of A Fake Sheik — there's no mention of Piers Morgan.
Is it possible Piers Morgan caught Mahmood using ethical practices that even he couldn't tolerate?
This is an issue to be explored in the unauthorised biography of Morgan — A Pretty Despicable.