Thursday, May 04, 2006

Galloway exposes the Fake Sheik!

The "Fake Sheik" is the nom de guerre of English undercover reporter Mazher Mahmood. Mahmood uses his swarthy Arabic appearance to effect his modus operandi: making fools of the rich and famous. Among his victims are Sven-Goren Eriksson, Princess Michael of Kent, and George Galloway. However, the latter would appear to have turned the scales on Mahmood.

His alter ego, the Fake Sheik, gains the trust of his victims by portraying himself as an oilrich Arab before getting them to commit indiscretions that are splashed as "scoops" on the front pages of the Rupert Murdoch-owned British Sunday tabloid, the News of the World.

In April 2006, Galloway said he had decided to expose Mahmood after the journalist tried to trick him into discreditable conduct. According to Galloway, "Mahmood sought to implicate me in what would be illegal political funding and sought my agreement to anti-Semitic views, including Holocaust denial."

Galloway responded by publishing pictures of Mahmood on his Respect Party website despite an unsuccessful an attempt by News International to prevent it.

Mahmood’s picture is also on the Wikipedia page named for him. The normally open source Wikipedia page on Mahmood is currently locked from updates due to a dispute among Wikipedians as to the veracity of the data about him on the site. One user complained about the photo of Mahmood on the talk page of the Mahmood entry claiming that “by publishing the photo, you are helping paedophiles and other nasty villains from being exposed by Mahmood.”

Controversy has always followed Mahmood. In November 2002 the News of the World printed a page one Mahmood story “Posh kidnap - we stop £5m ransom gang". It discussed an alleged plot to kidnap Victoria Beckham. The News of the World was on hand to photograph the arrest of the five suspects. However the court case against the suspects collapsed when the chief prosecution witness was revealed as an unreliable convicted criminal who was paid £10,000 for his story by the News of the World.

In 2005 Princess Michael of Kent revealed family secrets and used her royal connections to try to sell a property when Mahmood rolled up posing as a prospective Arab buyer. She also offered to do a lecture tour in Dubai on his behalf telling him: "It's a one-hour, one woman show, but I'm very good as you can imagine. I can write anything. I don't usually discuss fees. But it's £25,000 to speak. Is that not enough? Shall I do more? And expenses?"

She should have known better. She was not the first member of the Windsor clan to fall for a Mahmood “sting”. Princess Sophie, the Countess of Wessex, was another minor royal who fell victim to Mahmood’s fake sheikery. In 2001, the so-called "Sophie Tapes" had her making critical remarks about the government and using her royal status as a business tool to gain clients.

But probably the single most famous “sting” involved Sven-Goren Eriksson and cost him his £4 million pound a year job as England’s football manager. In January 2006 he was invited to Dubai to discuss a supposed football academy. There he was feted by Mahmood in full sheik regalia. Mahmood proposed a plan to him that his consortium were planning to take over Aston Villa football club and suggested Eriksson should become manager. Eriksson agreed saying he would be available after the World Cup (he is now!) to take on the job and intimated that England captain David Beckham might be persuaded to join him. He also made disparaging remarks about some of his other players, describing Rio Ferdinand as lazy, Michael Owen as only being with Newcastle for the money and blamed Wayne Rooney’s temper on his poor upbringing. The game was up for Sven after the News of the World revealed the hoax.

Very little is known about Mahmood himself. He was born in Birmingham to Pakistani parents. He was reputedly dismissed from the Sunday Times as a cub reporter 17 years ago for attempting to cover up a mistake in one of his reports. Despite this he was hired by the News of the World after a short stint in TV producton. The paper which has a circulation of four millions copies each week, boasts that Mahmood's investigations have led to over 120 criminal convictions.

About his disguise he said “The only reason I'm alive is because I'm Asian, because I can be a Pakistani market trader, a minicab driver - because of my colour. If I don't speak English properly, nobody would ever think that I'm a reporter."

If Arabs in the US are unfairly targeted as potential terrorist suspects, ones in England are more likely to be suspected of being journalists. Although the publication of his photo offers some respite to the wealthy, the famous, the royals and the child molesters.

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