Former Pakistan president Pervez Musharraf on Wednesday called for the 18-year-old star at the centre of cricket's spot-fixing scandal to be shown compassion as the player is from a poor family.
Pakistan's tour of England has been overshadowed by newspaper allegations of a betting scam that saw no-balls deliberately bowled in the fourth Test against England at Lord's last month.
The claims, published in the British News of the World newspaper, led to the suspension of bowler Mohammad Aamer, along with captain Salman Butt and Mohammad Asif by the International Cricket Council (ICC).
Musharraf described the allegations as "very sad", adding that "anyone involved has to be punished". But Aamer, the youngest of the group, should be viewed "compassionately" because of his family's low-income status and the 18-year-old's contribution to the game, Musharraf added.
"It is a very sad incident," he told reporters in Hong Kong after addressing an annual investors' forum. "Anyone involved has to be punished... But (Aamer's) case I feel needs to be seen compassionately... He comes from a poor family.
Destroying him would destroy his family." Pakistan's former leader, who said he plans to stand for parliament in the country's next general election in 2013, said Aamer is a "great cricketer" and "we must not allow cricket to lose".
"(Aamer) came under the influence of senior players," Musharraf added. The three players were provisionally suspended by the ICC on September 2, under the provisions of the Anti-Corruption Code.
British police raided the Pakistan team's hotel on August 28 before interrogating them on September 3. Police have levelled no charges and allowed the trio to return home, on an undertaking that they would return to Britain when required.
On Tuesday their lawyers said the players wrote to the ICC, indicating they would defend themselves against disciplinary action.
Newspaper reports suggested Butt and another player, Kamran Akmal, were also sent notices by the ICC in a separate case of match-fixing. The Pakistani government has said it will conduct its own inquiry after receiving a report from Scotland Yard.