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UK "fake sheikh" reporter guilty of plot to alter evidence in celebrity case

LONDON Oct 5 Mazher Mahmood, one of Britain's best known undercover reporters renowned for his "fake sheikh" sting operations, was facing jail on Wednesday after being convicted of plotting to alter evidence in a high-profile court case where he was the main witness.

Mahmood, whose elaborate disguises have duped criminals, celebrities, sporting figures and even royalty, conspired to alter a police statement during the 2014 drugs prosecution of Tulisa Contostavlos, a singer and former judge of the British version of the "X Factor" TV talent show.

Contostavlos was set to go on trial accused of supplying cocaine for Mahmood while he posed as an influential Indian film producer.

Prosecutors said Mahmood, 53, had conspired with his driver Alan Smith to alter a statement given to police in which Smith said Contostavlos had spoken out against drugs on an occasion when he drove her home.

This would have made her conviction less likely and thus damage the journalist's reputation as the "king of the sting," the prosecution said.

Contostavlos denied the charges against her, citing entrapment by Mahmood, and the case collapsed in July 2014 after questions arose about Smith's evidence. Both men were found guilty at London's Old Bailey criminal court of conspiracy to pervert the course of justice, the Press Association reported.

He is the latest journalist to have been convicted of committing a crime while working for media mogul Rupert Murdoch's British papers following the 2014 conviction of senior staff at the defunct News of the World tabloid for hacking messages on mobile phones. (Reporting by Michael Holden; editing by Stephen Addison)

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