On 30th April 2010 snooker stars John Higgins and Pat Mooney were recorded in a Kiev hotel room meeting with a Mr. D’Sousa to allegedly discuss the possibility of match-fixing. Unbeknown to them the businessmen at the Kiev meeting were undercover journalists for the News of the World. After the revelations both stars faced 4 separate charges:
- Agreeing or offering to accept a bribe, bribes or other reward to fix or otherwise to influence improperly the result of a tournament or match;
- Agreeing to engage in corrupt or fraudulent conduct;
- Intentionally giving the impression to others that they were agreeing to act in breach of the Betting Rules; and
- Failing to disclose promptly to the association full details of an approach or invitation to act in breach of the Betting Rules.
The World Professional Billiards and Snooker Association (“WPBSA”) held a tribunal, chaired by Ian Mill QC to discuss the alleged misconduct. Under the WPBSA Rules of Discipline if a charge of misconduct is found to have been proved, the Disciplinary Committee may impose upon the member one or more sanctions. These may include temporary or permanent suspension; a fine; the withholding of any prize money earned from an event or tournament; a reprimand; the removal of a licence or any such other sanction as they see fit.
The tribunal discussed the misconduct and has since withdrawn charges 1 and 2 for both men for entirely different reasons.
The charges against Higgins were withdrawn following an investigation into his account that he found himself at the Kiev meeting having only just beforehand been warned by Mooney that the subject of throwing frames might arise. Higgins has claimed that without time for reflection, and in an aim to avoid confrontation he played along with the discussion but had no intention at that meeting of throwing any frame of snooker for reward.
Charges 1 and 2 against Mooney were also withdrawn but this time because of the argument that the discussions giving rise to them were concerned with events which did not fall within the ambit of the words ‘Tour,’ ‘Tournament’ and ‘Match’ as described in the Betting Rules.
In the 8th September ruling, the stars were both found guilty of Charges 3 and 4, yet they have been given very different sanctions. World number One Higgins received a fine and has been suspended by World Snooker Chairman Barry Hearn. Meanwhile Mooney – who ran the World Series of Snooker with Higgins – also received a fine but has also been forced to stand down from the governing body’s board.
The difference in the sanctions comes down to the relationship between the two men. Mr Mooney represented Higgins – he was solely responsible for their presence in Kiev and at the meeting. The tribunal did highlight that Higgins had a small window to have reported the incident to the WPBSA prior to the story breaking and that he was foolish for not having done so but that failing to report the incident only warranted a short suspension from the WPBSA and playing (6 months.) He was also given a £75,000 fine for the gravity of the admitted breaches. Higgins is theoretically free to resume his career on 1 November following his ban, however, it was reported last week that the date of his return to competitive snooker may be somewhat dictated by his fathers health as he has been diagnosed with cancer.
The WPBSA tribunal decided that Mooney’s conduct in this case was of a completely different level of seriousness as he had much earlier knowledge of the purported venture with Mr. D’Sousa having apparently known as early as 8th April and he represented Higgins. In this knowledge, Mooney not only continued to engage with the businessmen but also persuaded a materially ignorant Higgins to attend the meeting in Kiev only minutes before its start, leading Mr. D’Sousa to believe that the throwing of frames was something that could be achieved.
Despite representing Higgins and therefore owing him fiduciary obligations, Mooney apparently did not advise him to make clear at the meeting that he would not involve himself in such activity. A fiduciary duty is a legal or ethical relationship of confidence or trust between two or more people. Where a duty is imposed, equity requires a stricter standard of behaviour than the comparable ‘duty of care’ at common law. In this case Higgins was in a vulnerable position and Mooney purported to repose confidence, good faith, reliance and trust in representing him. Mooney was arguably obligated not to put himself in a position where personal interests could conflict with Higgins’ interests. He was also under a duty not to profit from his fiduciary position without express knowledge and consent.
Mooney therefore breached not only the WPBSAs’ Betting Rules but arguably he also failed to uphold his fiduciary obligations to Higgins. Mooney has since suggested that he was clear in his own mind that Higgins would never deliberately throw a frame. This was dismissed by the Tribunal due to the fact that the Kiev transcript suggested he may have had other players in mind to procure the throwing of frames. Mooney claims he believed the venture was ‘nonsense’ however has offered no explanation for his failure to alert the WPBSA to it. The Chairman summed up by saying that even if Mooney had no intention of carrying out the agreement reached in Kiev, he had committed betrayals of trust to both the WPBSA and on a more personal level to Higgins, whose career and professional future were both put at risk unjustifiably.
Mooney resigned as Director from the WPBSA on May 2nd 2010, and his membership was suspended on May 6th 2010. At the September Tribunal, the Chairman ordered for that suspension to be made permanent and that Mooney be required to contribute £25,000 to the WPBSA’s costs. The costs order has subsequently been deemed disproportionate following Mooney’s allegedly precarious financial circumstances since the unfolding of these events.