- Associated Press - Friday, October 21, 2016

LONDON (AP) - A judge sentenced a British journalist who often posed as a Middle Eastern tycoon in sting operations to 15 months in prison on Friday, after the tabloid reporter was convicted of perverting the course of justice in an effort to get scoops.

Mazher Mahmood, a tabloid reporter nicknamed the “Fake Sheikh,” was found guilty earlier this month of tampering with evidence in the collapsed drug trial of pop star and actress Tulisa Contostavlos. The case against Contostavlos originally was based on interviews Mahmood, 53, conducted for the Sun newspaper.

The Crown Prosecution Service is reviewing another 25 convictions linked to Mahmood’s work and has dropped active criminal cases in which Mahmood was to be a witness

As he was led away to prison, a man in the crowd shouted, “Your turn now, Mazher.”

Over the years, Mahmood’s reporting drove the prosecutions of pedophiles and arms dealers and caused embarrassment for public figures.

One of his most famous scoops involved the wife of Prince Edward, youngest son of Queen Elizabeth II. Edward’s wife. Posing as an aide to a Saudi Arabian prince interested in hiring her public relations company, Mahmood charmed Sophie, the Countess of Wessex, into making indiscreet comments about the British government in 2001.

The countess also was caught on tape describing then-Prime Minister Tony Blair’s wife, Cherie, as “horrid, horrid, horrid.”

For the sting involving Contostavlos, Mahmood posed as a film producer and discussed a movie role with her that would have her share screen time with Leonardo DiCaprio. Prosecutors said Mahmood gave evidence to police that led to Contostavlos being charged with supplying illicit drugs.

Contostavlos said after the drug charges were dismissed that Mahmood had gotten her intoxicated while she tried out for the role of “a bad, rough, ghetto girl” and that she had been the victim of “a horrific and disgusting entrapment.”

“They recorded this and produced this as evidence when I thought it was an audition,” she said.

Mahmood’s driver Alan Smith, 67, also was found guilty of plotting to pervert the course of justice. Judge Gerald Gordon sentenced Smith to 12 months, suspended for two years, saying he had been motivated in part by “misguided loyalty”.

Gordon said there was no justification for Mahmood’s behavior.

“The motive was to preserve and enhance your reputation,” Gordon said. “You wanted another scalp and Miss Contostavlos‘ conviction would have achieved that.”

Mahmood’s lawyer, John Kelsey-Fry, said the reporter stood before the court as a “very frightened man.”

“He has brought catastrophe upon himself and a lifetime’s work will be forever tarnished,” Kelsey-Fry said.

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