LONDON (Reuters) - World number one John Higgins was banned for six months and fined 75,000 pounds on Wednesday although the Briton was cleared of accepting a bribe to fix snooker matches.
At an independent disciplinary hearing Higgins’ claim that he felt intimidated during a meeting in Kiev with an undercover journalist from the News of the World Sunday newspaper offering him large sums of money to throw a match was accepted.
The two most serious match-fixing charges levelled at Higgins were withdrawn although he admitted giving the impression that he would go along with the scam and of failing to report the meeting to governing body World Snooker.
Three-times world champion Higgins, who strenuously denied match-fixing, was provisionally banned by World Snooker chairman Barry Hearn in May pending the hearing.
The Scot’s six-month suspension has been back-dated meaning he can continue his career in November.
“I was not guilty of any dishonesty and had no intention to fix a match and no intention to do anything corrupt,” Higgins said, reading from a statement, after the hearing.
”I have never been involved in any form of snooker match-fixing. In my 18 years playing professional snooker I have never deliberately missed a shot, never mind intentionally lost a frame or a match.
“If I am guilty of anything it is of naivety and trusting those who, I believed, were working in the best interests of snooker and myself.”
Hearn, who has ambitious plans to revamp snooker, said he was satisfied with the outcome.
“John made a mistake in failing to report the meeting in Kiev,” Hearn said in a World Professional Billiards and Snooker Association (WPBSA) statement on Wednesday.
”He has admitted this mistake and expressed great regret at what happened. The evidence, which has been exhaustively studied by David Douglas and Sport Resolutions, suggests that he was led into this situation and did not instigate any discussions of corrupt activity.
“It seems certain, in view of his previous record and the ambassadorial work he has done for snooker, that this was a mistake he will never repeat.”
Snooker was rocked in May when the News of the World published a story describing a meeting between Higgins, his agent Pat Mooney and reporters purporting to be businessmen in Kiev looking to fix snooker matches.
During the News of the World sting Higgins was alleged to have agreed to take money in return for influencing the outcome of matches. The newspaper also had video footage of the meeting in which Higgins was heard discussing large sums of money.
Ian Mill QC, who headed the disciplinary hearing under the auspices of Sport Resolutions UK, described Higgins as “foolish” for the way he handled the situation but blamed Mooney for instigating the meeting out of “financial self-interest.”
“Without any opportunity for mature reflection Mr Higgins, who is by nature someone who seeks to avoid confrontation or unpleasantness, decided to play along with the discussion when the topic did indeed arise,” Mill said.
”He also found the atmosphere in the meeting somewhat intimidating. His focus was entirely on bringing the meeting to an end as soon as possible and getting on a plane home.
“On the basis that they intended what they said, it was obviously a matter of the greatest importance to the integrity of the sport of snooker that those intentions were immediately reported. Mr Higgins’ failure in this respect was extremely foolish.”
Mill said Mooney should be banned from snooker for life, stating that he betrayed the trust of the governing body of which he had been a director at the time and of Higgins.
“His entire career and professional future he inexplicably put at serious and wholly unjustifiable risk,” Mill said.
Mooney denied being involved in match-fixing and added in a statement issued by his solicitor that he “bitterly regrets being caught up in the News of the World’s entrapment.”
Reporting by Martyn Herman; Editing by Ken Ferris