CRICKET Australia CEO James Sutherland has said just three players knew about the ball-tampering plan beforehand, absolving others including Darren Lehmann from responsibility.
"The key finding is that prior knowledge was limited to three players, Steve Smith, David Warner, Cameron Bancroft," he said. "No other players or support staff had prior knowledge. This includes Darren Lehmann, who despite inaccurate media reports, has not resigned from his position.
"He will continue to coach the Australian men's team under his current contract (until the end of the 2019 Ashes)."
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He said Smith was "distraught" after he admitted the team's "leadership group" conspired to tamper with the ball as the Aussies sat in danger of losing to the home side during the third Test against South Africa three days ago.
Some senior players were said to have been unhappy at his use of the phrase "leadership group" because they felt it implicated them, as a rift between members of the team deepened.
Smith, Warner and Bancroft will leave South Africa and be replaced for the rest of the series, Sutherland revealed during a press conference in Johannesburg at around 7.20pm local time (4.20am AEDT).
"Significant sanctions" against them are likely to be revealed in the next 24 hours, once the investigation is complete.
The CA chief executive said the scandal was "extraordinarily bad" for Australian cricket and he shared in the "anger and disappointment" of fans,
He said Tim Paine had been officially appointed the new captain of Australia.
Asked if this was cheating, Sutherland was scathing of the incident but refused to answer the question.
He said the players had been officially reported for breaching article 2.3.5 of CA's Code of Conduct - for conduct contrary to the spirit of the game - and will be replaced by Matthew Renshaw, Glenn Maxwell and Joe Burns.
"On behalf of Cricket Australia, I want to apologise to all Australians that these events have taken place, particularly to the kids," said Sutherland.
"I want to apologise to Cricket South Africa and the South African fans that this issue has overshadowed what should have been a wonderful series."
He said the public reaction was "not terribly surprising" and was "a reminder of how important the game is to Australian fans". Sutherland said the sanctions over the saga would reflect "the damage it has done to the standing of Australian cricket."
He added: "This issue goes beyond the technical nature of the offences and various codes of conduct. It is about the integrity and reputation of Australian Cricket and Australian sport.
"Ultimately, it is about whether Australians can feel proud of their national sporting teams.
"It is not a good day for Australian cricket."
Sutherland flew into South Africa to talk to CA's head of high performance Pat Howard, who conducted a review of Australia's ball-tampering saga.
The controversy has sent the national side's international reputation spiralling after opening batsman Bancroft was revealed to be roughing up the ball with a piece of tape on day three of the third Test in Cape Town.
Fairfax reported on Tuesday that vice-captain Warner was the ringleader in the plan to illegally tamper with the ball. The disgraced 31-year-old, who stepped down from his captaincy role alongside Smith for the remainder of the match, was revealed to have gone "rogue" in the days following the Test.
Warner reportedly left a WhatsApp group with Australian players and angered his teammates by drinking champagne at their hotel bar - although he has now rejoined the social media chat.
Unnamed players reportedly requested the opening batsman to be "removed" from the group, warning an "incident" would soon break out between the disgruntled players, with Warner said to feel hurt because he believes the team has made him look like a villain.
Australia made immediate moves to replace its now banished opening batting pair by flying over dropped star Matt Renshaw on Tuesday. The 21-year-old, who impressed on his debut summer in the baggy green, is all but certain to make his return in Johannesburg for the fourth Test on Friday.
Lehmann will not resign as coach, despite reports overnight.
Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull reiterated on Tuesday that it had been "a shocking affront to Australia" and Cricket Australia must act "decisively and emphatically".