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Police: Journalist orchestrated intrusion

June 29, 2010
Associated Press

PRETORIA, South Africa -- A British tabloid journalist has been arrested for his role in what police say was an "orchestrated" attempt to undermine World Cup security.

National police commissioner Bheki Cele said Tuesday that police arrested Simon Wright on Monday. He said the Sunday Mirror journalist admitted to harboring and interviewing England supporter Pavlos Joseph while police were searching for him.

Cele said Wright allegedly booked hotel accommodations for Joseph using false details. Wright also had a contract with Joseph for exclusive interviews for seven days "after he made news," according to South Africa's most senior policeman.

"Police have reason to believe that this incident was orchestrated and involved the cooperation of a number of individuals," Cele said.

Cele said to expect more arrests in the case.

"Police strongly believe the motive was to put World Cup security in a bad light and possibly to profit from this act," Cele said of the June 18 incident in which the uncredentialed Joseph entered the dressing room after England drew 0-0 with Algeria at Cape Town's Green Point Stadium.

Joseph gave an exclusive interview to the Sunday Mirror afterward, claiming he was directed to the England locker room when he asked a security guard where he could find a toilet. He was quoted in the newspaper telling David Beckham that the England team's performance wasn't good enough.

"Do we believe that it was orchestrated by this journalist for Mr. Joseph? Yes, we do," Cele said of the incident.

The Sunday Mirror released a statement Tuesday confirming Wright's arrest but denying any wrongdoing and calling his reporting of the incident "legitimate."

"Sunday Mirror reporter Simon Wright was arrested and charged in Cape Town last night," the newspaper said. "He is currently on bail and will appear in court [Wednesday].

"He was engaged in a legitimate story for his newspaper and any suggestion that he or the newspaper was involved with Pavlos Joseph before he entered the England dressing room is entirely false."

Cele would not say if charges would be brought against the newspaper, but confirmed Wright had been arrested on Monday night for "defeating the ends of justice" and "flouting the provisions of the Immigration Act."

Cele's wide-ranging security briefing at a hotel in the capital Pretoria was the commissioner's first public news conference since the tournament kicked off June 11. He said 316 people had been arrested since the start of the World Cup, 207 of them South African citizens. Six Americans and eight U.K. citizens were also among those arrested.

The commissioner cited swift and efficient justice in the case involving Portuguese and Spanish journalists who were robbed at gunpoint near the town of Magaliesburg on June 9. The arrest of the three culprits 24 hours after the incident and their convictions 48 hours later sent "a stern warning out to those considering committing similar offenses," he said.

Cele also confirmed there was a burglary at the FIFA headquarters in the plush Johannesburg suburb of Sandton, where seven replica World Cup trophies were stolen.

"We are looking at it and we suspect that it will be people very familiar with the FIFA offices. We are looking closely at that," Cele said.

FIFA was asked about the theft at its daily media briefing in Johannesburg on Tuesday but would not comment, saying it had no information about the break-in.


Copyright 2010 by The Associated Press