Mazher Mahmood, a British journalist known for his undercover work posing as a "fake sheikh", has been suspended by The Sun after the collapse of a celebrity trial in which he was a main witness.
Mahmood, well-known for revealing wrongdoing among politicians, celebrities, and royalty, had given evidence in the trial of Tulisa Contostavlos, a former judge on The X Factor.
She had denied being involved in the supply of cocaine to Mahmood while he posed as a film producer, but her trial collapsed with the judge saying he suspected the reporter had lied to the court.
The judge said a chauffeur named Alan Smith had been expected to testify that Contostavlos had told him she disapproved of drugs — “but after (a) conversation with Mr Mahmood, he had changed his mind”. At a pre-trial hearing, Mahmood denied speaking to Smith about the issue.
“The Sun, of course, takes the judge’s remarks very seriously. Mr Mahmood has been suspended pending an immediate internal investigation,” a spokesman for the newspaper said.
Mahmood previously worked for Rupert Murdoch’s News of the World tabloid which the media mogul was forced to shut in 2011 when it was disclosed that journalists had hacked voicemails on mobile phones of thousands of people, including that belonging to a murdered schoolgirl, to find exclusive stories.
Mahmood carried out the inquiry which led to the 2011 conviction of three Pakistani cricketers for taking bribes to fix incidents in a match against England.
In his most famous exclusive, in 2001, he posed as an Arab sheikh to dupe Sophie, Countess of Wessex, who is married to Queen Elizabeth’s youngest son Prince Edward, into making indiscreet comments about other members of the royal family and senior politicians.
Contostavlos, who found fame in Britain as a singer with the hip-hop act N-Dubz, said his “entrapment” tactics should be outlawed.
Contostavlos accused Mahmood of “horrific and disgusting entrapment”. She said she had believed she was auditioning for a role in a major movie, with Leonardo DiCaprio as a potential co-star.
“Mahmood got me and my team completely intoxicated and persuaded me to act the part of a bad, rough, ghetto girl,” she said.
“They recorded this and produced this as evidence when I thought it was an audition.
“We have now succeeded in exposing the real culprit and, most importantly, the real liar,” she said.
“I urge both police and News UK to investigate Mazher Mahmood and his team and to put an end to his deceit in pursuit of sensational stories for commercial gain.”
© Irish Examiner Ltd. All rights reserved