(Reuters) – British tabloid journalist Simon Wright had World Cup-related charges dropped on Saturday after paying an admission of guilt fine ahead of his trial in South Africa.
Sunday Mirror reporter Wright was arrested and charged with helping Pavlos Joseph illegally enter the England dressing room after their goalless draw against Algeria in Cape Town on June 18.
Joseph, media reports at the time said, blasted the England team for their performance.
However, after more than three hours of negotiations between prosecutors and Wright’s defense team on Saturday morning, the main charge of attempting to defeat or obstruct the administration of justice — or fraud — was dropped.
Wright will have a criminal record after paying a 750 rand ($99.10) admission of guilt fine for contravening sections of the Immigration Act by unlawfully registering under a false name at a Cape Town hotel. “The main count and first alternative count … is removed from the roll and the admission of guilt fine of 750 rand paid in respect of the second alternative count is accepted, therefore the matter is disposed of,” magistrate Joe Magele said.
South Africa’s police minister welcomed Saturday’s outcome as a “major victory” for the criminal justice system in Africa’s largest economy.
“Wright’s admission of guilt is indicative that some journalists will do anything to get a story, even commit a criminal act. We are a sovereign country, with laws that must be upheld by all citizens, as well as all visitors,” Minister Nathi Mthethwa said in a statement from the National Joint Operational and Intelligence Structure.
According to the original charge sheet, Wright was informed by his London office about Joseph’s identity and he set about providing the Sunday Mirror with an exclusive interview.
Wright arranged to meet Joseph, where a contractual agreement was reached to give the paper an exclusive account of his dressing room visit and to “provide and/or pose for photographs in return for a payment of 35,000 pounds ($53,080)” in the event the article was published.
Wright, say prosecutors, booked a room for himself and Joseph in the swanky five-star Bay Hotel under false names, although he did provide his correct credit card and passport details.
Wright’s article, which appeared on Sunday, June 20, raised alarm bells around security at Africa’s first hosting of the world’s most watched sports event.
“It was an embarrassing story for them (South African authorities) and that’s why they’ve reacted in the way they have,” Wright told reporters outside the Cape Town magistrates building where a special World Cup court heard the case.
“I got off a plane 10 days ago and was swooped upon by half a dozen South African police officers.”
A visibly relieved Wright, who had to surrender his passport when arrested, said he felt treated unfairly when not allowed to go home to prepare for his defense.
However, he said the Joseph episode was a good story.
“For me as a journalist it was a good story. For English newspaper readers it was a good story. I did my job. I did no more than that,” Wright said.
(Editing by Jon Bramley)