LONDON: British journalist Mazher Mahmood, better known as the “Fake Sheikh” who caught out a string of celebrities in tabloid stings, was on Friday jailed for 15 months for perverting the course of justice.
Mahmood, who conceals his identity after a series of alleged death threats, became a celebrity in his own right for his front-page scoops, in which he posed as a wealthy figure from the Gulf and encouraged stars to make embarrassing revelations.
Mahmood, 53, and his driver Alan Smith, 66, were convicted last week of conspiring to pervert the course of justice following a trial in London.
Judge Gerald Gordon said Mahmood had done “some good work” in his career, but that a jail sentence was inevitable given the nature of the crime.
A jury found the two men had plotted to suppress evidence in the collapsed 2014 drugs trial of British pop singer and TV star Tulisa Contostavlos, which resulted from a Mahmood operation.
The self-styled “King of Sting” posed as a film producer and offered Contostavlos a Hollywood career and a movie role alongside star Leonardo DiCaprio.
She was accused of arranging for Mahmood to be sold cocaine by one of her contacts.
Smith told police that the singer had made anti-drugs remarks in the car — which could have proved helpful to her lawyers in the case — but later removed the comments from his statement after contacting Mahmood.
As this emerged, the Contostavlos trial collapsed and prosecutors turned their attention to Mahmood and Smith.
Mahmood’s list of sting targets includes several members of the royal family, sports stars and TV celebrities.
Soap actor John Alford was caught in a similar cocaine sting by Mahmood, and accused the journalist of being “a manipulator of evidence” and “a serial perjurer” following the sentencing.
“No-one is above the law and no-one should be given carte blanche to create crimes and destroy evidence,” he told reporters outside the court.
“There is a clear pattern of evidence, manipulation in all our cases, hours of taped evidence was missing.” -AFP