Dubbed the “Fake Sheikh”, Mazher Mahmood has spent 25 years as an undercover reporter with everyone from celebrities to royals caught up in his famous exposes.
But serious doubt has been cast over his credibility and his career hangs in the balance after a judge ruled he lied under oath in the trial of former X Factor judge Tulisa Contostavlos.
Judge Alistair McCreath dramatically called a halt to the singer’s trial and laid the blame for its collapse squarely at Mr Mahmood’s feet.
He told the packed courtroom at London’s Southwark Crown Court that “there are strong grounds for believing Mr Mahmood told me lies when he gave evidence to me” during pre trial legal hearings.
In a series of legal arguments, Contostavlos’s barrister, Mr Dein, accused Mr Mahmood of having a “long and chequered history” and of “inventing informers and for creating factual scenarios which are not true”.
To support his case he called former tipster and Kosovan asylum seeker Florim Gashi, who claims to have made up a string of stories with Mr Mahmood at the now defunct News of the World.
Mr Gashi told the court: “Everything was pre-planned from Maz and basically I was involved in assisting him, helping him make up stories for his newspaper.”
He said a front-page story in the News of the World in 2002 in which Mr Mahmood claimed to have exposed a plot of some Albanians to kidnap ex-Spice Girl Victoria Beckham and hold her ransom for £5 million, was a set-up.
Five Albanians were arrested but later cleared when the prosecution case collapsed after it was revealed Mr Gashi had been paid £10,000 for the story despite having criminal convictions to his name, and was therefore deemed an unreliable witness.
Questioned about the story, Mr Gashi told the court: “There was nothing genuine in regards to kidnapping Victoria Beckham. This plan originated from Mazher Mahmood and I assisted him to my best to make this story happen.”
He accused Mr Mahmood of throwing away tape recordings if they contradicted a story and luring people into committing crimes.