Mazher Mahmood: What Happened to Fake Sheikh?

Directed by Ceri Isfryn, Amazon Prime’s ‘The Fake Sheikh’ tells the professional journey of one journalist who went to extreme lengths in order to ensure that his stories would always garner the attention of the world. We are, of course, talking about Mazher Mahmood, the man who became famous for masquerading as a Sheikh while working as an undercover journalist. Over the years, his actions have helped him gain much fame, along with a healthy dose of criticism, especially from those whom he decided to write about. Needless to say, people are quite curious about what Mahmood is up to these days, and here is what we know about the same!

Who is Mazher Mahmood?

Born on March 22, 1963, Mazher Mahmood is the son of Sultan and Shamim Mahmood, who were themselves journalists and had moved to the United Kingdom about three years before their son’s birth. Eager to enter the world of journalism, Mahmood’s first story was actually publically exposing some of his family friends who had been selling pirated content. The 18-year-old’s actions earned him the scorn of his family, though it also helped him land a position with News of the World for two weeks.

Mazher Mahmood then went on to freelance for Sunday People. He joined Sunday Time in 1989, though, according to Roy Greenslade, the company’s then-managing editor, Mahmood was fired for allegedly trying to cover up a mistake, though it is something that the journalist himself has denied. It was in 1991 that he became a part of News of the World once more, this time as a full-time member. It was here that Mahmood covered some of his biggest stories, which earned him both praise and criticism.

Over the course of his career, Mahmood tried to keep his face hidden in order to continue impersonating a Sheikh. Using this disguise, he was known for setting up elaborate plans in order to have his intended target be caught committing one infraction or the other. Some of his most famous cases include the alleged murder plot hatched by Dr. Manohar Rangwani, Freddy Shepherd and Doug Hall’s comments about women, the Pakistan Cricket Fixing scandal, and much more.

In 1999, Mahmood won the British Press Award for Reporter of the Year due to his contribution to the Freddy Shepherd and Doug Hall story. He was also given the same award in 2011 for shedding light on cricket match-fixing, especially in the context of players from Pakistan. The same also helped him bag the Sports Journalists’ Association award in 2011. However, the same year also saw the closing of News of the World after the tabloid was accused of illegally hacking the phones of various people.

Though Mahmood himself was not implicated in the phone hacking scandal, his methods and their results were questioned many times over the years. His exposing of a possible plot to kidnap Victoria Beckham soon faced backlash when Mahmood’s informant claimed that he had fabricated the story, with the possible kidnappers claiming that the plot had been hatched on the direction of those involved from Mahmood’s side.

Emma Morgan, another person whom Mahmood wrote about for alleged drug use, appeared in the Amazon Prime series and claimed that the only reason she had done what she did was that Mahmood, as a Sheikh, had enticed her with the opportunity of a lifetime and she had been afraid that refusing to do drugs after the man had encouraged might have cost her the job. This story is similar to what Jodie Kidd shared. Mahmood’s decision to catch undocumented immigrants in 2006 in order to report about the same was perhaps one act that shattered many of his professional bonds, especially with Paul Samrai, who felt that this particular action had hurt innocents.

Mazher Mahmood’s Whereabouts Remain a Mystery Today

Despite the controversial nature of Mazher Mahmood’s actions when it came to writing a story, it was not until 2014 that he came into trouble with the law. In the previous year, he had decided to investigate Tulisa Contostavlos after her exit from ‘X-Factor.’ Pretending to be a film producer from Bollywood/Hollywood, Mahmood told the artist that he had a £3.5-million deal for her to star in a movie about a girl trying to be an R&B artist.

Footage Still from Mazher Mahmood’s Tulisa Contostavlos Sting

While still negotiating with Tulisa, Mahmood had allegedly asked her to arrange drugs for her, and the celebrity had apparently asked someone to pretend to be a supplier, not realizing that the person would actually give the undercover journalist drugs. Using this turn of events, Mahmood wrote about Tulisa, claiming her to be a drug supplier. However,  after a grueling legal process, the case against Tulisa was dropped on July 21, 2014.

Believing that Mahmood had entrapped Tulisa and not been entirely truthful about his “investigation,” the journalist was charged with conspiracy to pervert the course of justice. He had already been suspended by Sun On Sunday, the company he had joined after News of the World shut down on July 7, 2011. The journalist was found guilty on November 20, 2015, and was sentenced to fifteen months in prison on October 21, 2016.

Though Mahmood’s sentence has ended as of writing, the journalist has seemingly disappeared. Though he had enjoyed a certain amount of anonymity given his reluctance to expose his face publically, Mahmood’s pictures did become public knowledge, especially after his trial. Many believe that after serving his sentence, he might have joined another media outlet under a different name and might still be working in the field. The Amazon Prime showrunners seemed to have tried to establish communication with him repeatedly in order to gain his insight for the documentary series, but the efforts did not yield any results.

Read More: Paul Samrai: Where is the News of the World Tipster Now?