MILLIONAIRE World Snooker champion John Higgins is captured here on camera shaking hands on a disgraceful deal to fix a string of high-profile matches after demanding a £300,000 kickback.
The scandal will cast a dark shadow over the final of this year’s championship which starts today and disgust the millions of fans tuning into the BBC to watch their sporting idols.
After 34-year-old Higgins’ shock defeat in the tournament at the hands of veteran Steve Davis, he flew to the Ukrainian capital of Kiev and in a meeting with undercover News of the World investigators on Friday shamelessly:
- AGREED to deliberately LOSE frames in four matches so that illegal gambling syndicates could clean up.
- HAGGLED over the best ways to cover up the bribe – finally settled at Euro 300,000 (£261,000).
- BRAGGED it was “easy” to fool fans into believing they were watching genuine snooker action.
Astonishingly, the entire deal was set up and agreed with Higgins’ agent Pat Mooney, a board memeber of the World Professional Snooker and Billiards Association and one of the sport’s top four officials charged with POLICING the game.
At first, Greedy Mooney and Higgins saw the chance of making a legal fortune out of our team, who were posing as businessmen interested in organising a series of events linked to the World Snooker Series – effectively a European Tour of snooker.
But they could not resist the lure of making extra illegal cash on the side from game fixing.
During the 10-minute conversation that sealed their crooked deal Higgins never once questioned the legality or morality of cheating for cash.
Instead he was more interested in how he could HIDE the massive payments he’d get.
Asked by our man if there was any danger he might not be able to deliver on his promise to lose a certain frame, Higgins – who was awarded the MBE for his services to sport – insisted: “It’s easy, it’s easy!”
Then came the subject of how he’d get paid and he bleated:
“But then I’m thinking to myself how do I swallow 300,000 pounds or Euros coming in. . . ?”
Father-of-three Higgins – who has won the coveted world crown three times and is nicknamed the Wizard of Wishaw – was not worried about the disgrace his tricks could bring on the game.
He was more concerned about covering his back.
Dressed in a pin-striped suit, Higgins at one point even jokingly asked if there were hidden cameras in the plush Kiev hotel suite – little suspecting that every word WAS being captured by our team, who he’d met for the first time just hours earlier.
Having raised the subject of match fixing with Higgins’ grasping manager Mooney at previous meetings, our investigators sat down with the two men on Friday morning to sort out the mechanics of the scam.
The idea agreed earlier by Mooney was for Higgins to deliberately lose four frames in separate tournaments. Now the player himself had to rubber-stamp the details. . .
REPORTER: “Right, this will purely be four, we’ll shake hands on it and that’s the end of the matter. But more important is how would you lose a frame? That’s what I want to know, how would that work?
“Because, you know, you’re the bloody world champion!”
HIGGINS: “Who would it be against?”
REPORTER: “Well you tell me. I mean. . . you can’t lose against a Ukrainian player here and then go to Warsaw and lose against a Polish, go to bloody Prague and lose against a Czech.
“That’s stupid, that’s plain stupid. And it doesn’t make financial sense for these guys (the shady betting syndicates financing the proposed events).
“It has to be against somebody that is. . .”
HIGGINS: “Against somebody that’s goodish and it’s easier.”
REPORTER: “Against someone like one of the other boys (meaning other top names who’d be joining in the tournament). No one needs to know.”
Mooney and Higgins then suggested THREE prominent stars of the game by name.
HIGGINS: “It’s easy. Its easy.”
MOONEY: “You make one mistake. . .”
HIGGINS: “You don’t even have to make a mistake.”
REPORTER: “You have to be sure if you’re going to tell him ‘Frame three I’m going to lose.”
HIGGINS: “Oh yeah. Frame three I’m going to lose, yes, yes.”
REPORTER: “Yeah, but I mean what if he gets a good break? What’s the risk factor I mean?”
HIGGINS: “No risk. No, because you can miss.”
Having agreed to the proposed deal, Higgins and Mooney were keen to discuss the money – even suggesting that it be hidden as a payment for wearing a sponsor’s logo on Higgins’ waistcoat.
And they raised the possibility the illicit payment be hidden as a sponsorship deal which, under EU rules, would allow them to avoid tax.
Not that the star needs the money – he has banked more than £5 million prize money since turning professional in 1992 and winning his first tournament two years later.
As the talks continued, Higgins – now playing an active role in the discussions – had his own ideas about how the cash could be paid over without raising the suspicions of the authorities.
Turning to Mooney, he said: “I’ve got a property in Spain.
“I’m thinking to myself… is there any way. . . if you get a small mortgage or something on the property and you can pay it off. Would they look me out if you paid it off in a lump sum?”
Mooney replied: “They would be asking where that money came from.”
All Higgins’ ducking and diving will shock fans who admire his straightforward family image. The keen Celtic supporter married wife Denise in 2000 and have two sons and a daughter. Earlier this year the couple appeared on ITV’s Mr and Mrs show which they won. And after last year’s World Championship victory, Higgins paid a special tribute to his wife.
He said: “Denise is the biggest drive behind me these days.
“I think all snooker players can get a bit selfish and lazy. You get down on yourself and start to think you won’t win anything ever again. Then it’s up to the wives, who are basically kicking you up the backside and telling you that you are good enough.”
Denise will be telling him something else today.
For, still obsessed with his own safety and hiding the illicit payments rather than the image of snooker itself, Higgins told our men: “I’m just frightened that obviously. . . ”
MOONEY: “That it comes up on the radar?”
HIGGINS: “It is a hell of a lot of money.”
REPORTER: “For a professional bloody snooker player? I mean you earned something like close to a million last year didn’t you? The books show you earned 500 something thousand.”
HIGGINS: “Yeah, what I am saying is that it is a hell of a lot of money. . . ”
MOONEY: “. . . to kind of appear.”
Then Higgins seems to be wondering how much the backroom paymasters will making.
HIGGINS: “Let me get this straight. For four frames, so you’re thinking, divide that, £75,000. You’ve got to earn more than that per frame.”
REPORTER: “Don’t you worry about our side. You worry about your side. How you want to get paid?”
HIGGINS: “I’m not worrying about your side.”
As the conversation continued, our reporter once again checked that Higgins was clear about what was expected of him, losing four separate frames, one per tournament.
Higgins simple damning response was a definite: “Yes!”
Moments later the snooker star and his agent rose to their feet and shook hands to seal their dodgy deal.
Top boss pledges enquiry
SNOOKER’S top official Barry Hearn was “mortified” to learn of the bribery scandal – and pledged an immediate inquiry.
Mr Hearn. Chairman of the World Professional Snooker and Billiards Association – of which Mooney is also a senior executive – said it was “a massive blow to the integrity of the sport.”
The shocked sports boss said: “Mooney is a fellow director on the WPBSA, I am absolutely mortified.
“He is someone I am working with closely on the rejuvenation and revitalisation of snooker.
“He is in a very responsible position.
“If these allegations against the World Champion John Higgins and Mooney are true it is a very serious matter indeed and a massive, massive blow to the integrity of the sport.
“We have stringent disciplinary procedures for players bringing the game into disrepute.
“My views about cheating are well known.
“We will launch an immediate inquiry which will be led by former Chief superintendent David Douglas who I appointed to the board only last week.
“It’s a very serious matter that we will look into immediately and take firm action.”
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- How John Higgins tried to bet on Championship
- How John Higgins tried to bet on Championship
- Mooney: We’re looking for John Higgins to maybe get beat by the likes of XXX
- Higgins banned – but cleared of fixing (guardian.co.uk)
- Higgins cleared of fixing claims (news.bbc.co.uk)
- John Higgins banned for six months but cleared of match-fixing (guardian.co.uk)
- John Higgins affair: how the events unfolded in ex-world champion’s fight to clear name (telegraph.co.uk)
- Snooker: John Higgins fined and suspended (independent.co.uk)
More on the Scandal
DISGRACED snooker star John Higgins is today exposed for the second time in a week – attempting to bet against HIMSELF during last year’s World Championship Final.
The three-times world champ was suspended from the sport last week after the News of the World caught him on camera agreeing to a massive £261,000 bribe to deliberately lose frames in four separate matches.
Now we can reveal how Higgins shamefully tried to cash in on the most important fixture in world snooker at the revered home of the sport – the Crucible in Sheffield.
In a break during the May bank holiday weekend final, Higgins made a secret mobile phone call to bookmakers Ladbrokes to ask for odds on him LOSING to opponent Shaun Murphy at some stage in the match.
Using a password to access his personal account, he then tried to place a substantial wager, telling the operator: “I just want to cover myself.”
Amazingly the 34-year-old Scot – guaranteed £125,000 prize money even if he lost – added: “I don’t want to walk away without anything.”
But Higgins’ outrageous attempt to bag an extra payout was thwarted when Ladbrokes’ call centre betting clerk sought advice from her manager and rejected the bet.
In the end, Higgins – watched by three million unsuspecting British fans plus many millions more around the globe – turned a commanding lead on the Sunday into a crushing 18-9 victory on the Monday, clinching the championship and £250,000 prize.
Our shock new revelations will plunge the sport of snooker into a deeper crisis and could prove the final nail in the coffin of the Bothwell star’s once glittering career.
Now, already under official investigation over his match-fixing deal with our undercover team in the Ukraine last week, he is likely to face a further probe and could even be stripped of that 2009 title.
Our source contacted us in the wake of our scoop last Sunday exposing Higgins and his agent Patrick Mooney.
The former Ladbrokes worker has sworn a legal affidavit and provided detailed information to back up her story. Last night she told us how she had been following Higgins’ fantastic form on TV at the call centre office in Aintree, Liverpool – closed by the company two months ago – when the star rang in.
She revealed: “I was watching the game on the big screen when the players got up and walked off for an interval. Higgins was well ahead at the time, he was on fire.
“Then about five minutes later the phone rang so I answered and asked for the account ID. He gave me his name and password but I knew it was him straight away from the soft Scottish accent.
“All his notes came up on the account. His name, password, address, phone number, and there was also a security box on screen which said he was a professional snooker player.
“I was totally starstruck. I couldn’t believe it. One minute I’d been watching him on TV, the next thing he was on the phone to me.”
But the worker – who had been with the call centre for nearly three years – was shocked as Higgins asked for the odds on Murphy.
Our source said: “He wanted to place a bet on Murphy winning. He wanted to bet AGAINST himself. I can’t remember if it was for him to lose the next frame, the next session or the whole match.
“I can’t remember exactly how much he wanted to bet but the figure £1,000 sticks in my mind. I said to him, ‘Why do you want to do that? You’re well ahead.’ Then he said, ‘I just want to cover myself.’ And he added that he didn’t want to walk away without anything. But he was doing so well in the match, a bomb would have had to come through the roof for him to lose. He was doing brilliantly. I remember thinking, ‘Why bet against yourself?’
“It was such an important match. The world final. The prize money from winning was huge. Why would you take the risk of betting on a game like that?”
The Ladbrokes clerk immediately realised the bet was against all the rules – and went to see her boss while Higgins stayed on the line.
“I just told him that before I could place the bet I’d have to check,” she recalled. “I was nice and friendly with him and then I went to talk to my manager who was sat behind me. I explained who it was and what he wanted and was simply told, ‘No, in no circumstances can you take that bet.’ To be honest I already knew that and I think Higgins would have done too.
“When I got back onto him I said that unfortunately, on this occasion, he wasn’t allowed to bet because it was a match or tournament he was involved in. He must have known that, but he just said ‘Oh, I didn’t realise.’ I thought he was pulling my leg. He must have known he couldn’t bet on his own match.”
When Higgins hung up, the worker passed all the details on to her manager. He in turn sent the information to the company’s main headquarters in Harrow, Middlesex.
All calls made to the Aintree centre were recorded and archived at the head office. Our source added: “There’ll be a log of everything that happened. The call would have been recorded and the time and date will have been logged.
“There’ll be a record of me opening his account and a record of my manager reporting it to head office. All the details were sent. There’ll be a record of all this.”
After her five-hour shift our source went home and told her boyfriend what had happened.
“I was straight on the phone to him,” she said. “He couldn’t believe it. Snooker is one of the sports I really like, that and football. That’s why I was so starstruck when Higgins called.
“But after my boss took all the details and reported what happened I didn’t hear anything more. As far as I was concerned we did the right thing. We didn’t allow the bet and then we reported it. I don’t know what happened after that.”
She believes the would-be bet was for around £1,000, as anything higher would have attracted the attention of the Ladbrokes traders – the people who fix the odds and look out for big or unusual bets.
She said: “Higgins’ account wasn’t on the elite line, that’s for high rollers who stake a lot.
“If it had been a big bet then it would have been flagged and the screen would have gone red. That’s when the traders have a look at the account and have to okay it.
“As Higgins was well in front at the time the odds on Murphy would have been a lot higher.”
Snooker’s governing body, the World Professional Billiards and Snooker Association and its boss Barry Hearn will be appalled that Higgins treated the most important tournament in its calendar with such contempt.
The agony will be particularly acute because the scandal centres on the Crucible – the Wembley of world snooker, where greats such as Steve Davis, Stephen Hendry and Dennis Taylor have triumphed.
Higgins’ behaviour threatens the credibility of the entire tournament broadcast live by the BBC and around the world by Eurosport.
Astonishingly, as we were checking out the Ladbrokes story yesterday an emotional Higgins was almost in tears giving us an exclusive interview in a Glasgow lawyer’s office, claiming he was an innocent party in the £261,000 match-fixing scandal. Snooker’s former world No 1 vowed: “I’ll be back. John Higgins is a fighter.”
Despite damning video evidence seen by millions on our website at notw.co.uk, Higgins insisted he is not guilty and claimed he would clear his name. But he admitted that for the first time in his life he is not now in control of his own destiny.
Looking drained, the dad of three referred to his current suspension from the sport and said: “It won’t be the end of seeing John Higgins at the snooker table.
“I’ve never deliberately missed a shot, intentionally lost a frame, intentially lost a match.”
But, for legal reasons, he declined to answer a string of questions about the corrupt deal he was prepared to do with our undercover investigators at their meetings in the Ukraine, where he was asked how he could cover up the cheating and bragged: “It’s easy.”
Instead he declared mysteriously: “My fans will understand this better as events unfold.”
The battered star then went on to describe the rollercoaster of pain his actions have brought on himself and loyal wife Denise, 33, since our sensational story broke last weekend.
He confessed: “There has been a whole range of emotions, despair, frustration, anger, rage. The biggest sense is betrayal. Where do you start? Where do you start?
“The despair is that I’ve been playing this sport since I was 10 years old. I have always conducted myself in a way I was brought up by my mum and dad. Then, with my own family round about me, I just couldn’t believe these things were happening to me. They will never happen to me again.
“I’ve had many low points in my career, losing matches, but I’ve always fought back and that’s what I intend to do with this.”
Speaking of the moment he learned of our story, he admitted: “It has been a low point, it has been a low point. My first emotion was thinking ‘How has this all happened?’
“But as the days went on I realised what the goal is, to clear my name of these charges of cheating and match fixing.
“I know I am 100 per cent innocent. So there’s no doubt in my mind that the goal is to be back playing snooker next year.
“The worst point has probably been seeing the publicity and how this has affected my family.”
Describing the devastating impact on his wife and three children, Higgins said: “I think anyone can understand that whenever you see your family upset, they’re all that matter to you. Everyone has been strong for me. Saturday night seems so long ago now. The first day or two was a blur, that’s all I can say. A total blur.”
Higgins denied reports he had been on the brink of taking his own life, saying his family had helped him to cope. “I certainly wasn’t suicidal,” he insisted. Asked if tears were shed, he replied: “Of course there were – lots of them. If I’m being honest there was a whole mix of emotions. It has been tough, it really has been tough.”
But Higgins suddenly clammed up when we asked him about our new discovery of his attempt to bet against himself. He gave no reaction and looked at his lawyer Philip Rodney, of Burness solicitors, who said: “This is news to me. I have no knowledge of this. We can get you a statement on this.”
Higgins’ spokesman said: “We have to discuss this and get back to you.” An hour later the spokesman called our reporter with the response: “No comment.”
Last night WBPSA chairman Barry Hearn asked us to pass our dossier of evidence.
A senior member of the governing body said: “There appears to be a clear breach of the Code of Conduct which will be investigated along with the other allegations already made against Mr Higgins. There are clear rules laid out for players on the issue of gambling.”