Cricket in the time of cholera

Published: May 3, 2010 - 15:32 Updated: May 3, 2010 - 15:43

Will Lalit Modi be jailed? Will he meet the fate of Harshad Mehta and Telgi? Will he spill the beans on all those who shared the unprecedented dirty money pie with him, including powerful politicians and corporate fat cats across the elite spectrum? Will this big game casino figure out the dubious gamblers? Or will it be, as usual, another match fixed?
Sanjay Kapoor Delhi

The ring of déjà vu is unmistakable. In 1991-92, Bombay Bull Harshad Mehta was toasted by the glossies and the pink press as someone who had answers to lifting a moribund stock market out of its low level trap. No one really bothered about how he was souping up the stock market, or using the public sector funds to his advantage. Then one day, like it happens with all crooks, destiny caught up with him and Mehta and his magical financial instruments that promised phenomenal return on investment were found useless.

While Mehta went through some kind of public lynching and was subsequently dumped, many of his powerful patrons who were participants in the heist, however, managed to slip out. Also, ignored were the powerful holders of dubious funds who washed them in the bouncing stock market. Attempts of the parliamentary committee and every investigating agency to get to the truth were stalled. End use of scam moneywas never found, nor the involvement of powerful politicos.

Twenty years later, a more spectacular saga of deceit, low cunning combined with gargantuan money- making enterprise is playing out again. This time cricket, unlike the stock market in the past, was used to scoop in large funds from tax havens and other dubious sources. 

The pied piper this time around is perhaps flashier than the understated Marwari broker of the 1990s who perished quietly in a jail. Lalit Modi, Commissioner of Indian Premier League (IPL), who turned it into a $4 billion heaving enterprise that drew in the world's best cricketing talent. Indeed, after manifest exposure of wrongdoing that involved mind-boggling money-making operations, Modi seems poised to suffer a fate similar to that of Mehta. Unless, he can buy immunity by remaining silent about the identity of those whose names are still deeply embedded in hidden hard drives. 

Hardnews learns that Lalit Modi, who steered the IPL league for the last three years, is holding his cards close to his chest and could reveal names of many of those heavyweights who picked up a stake in many of these IPL franchisees. 

A highly placed source in the investigation agency lends corroboration to Modi's growing swagger about brazening out the threat meted out to him by the Board of Control of Cricket in India (BCCI), which chose to suspend him when the dung hit the ceiling.

Hardnews
was informed that most of the franchisees followed a certain pattern: "Sixty per cent for the main money bag or financier, 20 per cent for Lalit Modi and the rest of 20 per cent was spread between politicians, film stars and other important personalities." 

This source reveals that in every franchisee there are a few politicians who have parked their ill-gotten wealth and were hoping for appreciation as IPL went up the growth curve. Who are these politicians? Many of the names are quite active in BCCI affairs, but there are many others who are striving to keep their masks firmly in place. Their fear has been aggravated by the manner in which the 'former' minister of state for external affairs, Shashi Tharoor, came to grief due to his involvement in the bidding process. 

Before we come to the identity of other politicians and the role of film stars, it would be important to revisit the circumstances in which Shashi Tharoor got involved in the seductive cricket enterprise. Tharoor, who was forced to submit his resignation to Prime Minister Manmohan Singh after he returned from his trip to Washington and Brasilia, was spearheading the campaign of a Kochi-based consortium, Rendezvous. 

Tharoor tried to show that passion for the game and the desire to take the game to the backwaters of Kerala was the reason for his lobbying. This did not wash when unedifying details began to emerge after Modi, displaying hubris, began to tweet. Call it a moment of madness that took the lid off the proverbial Pandora's Box, Modi hinted at Tharoor's girl friend, Sunanda Pushkar, getting  sweat equity worth Rs 70 crore for her labour. 

Modi, whose megalomaniac ego, brashness, and dictatorial ways are proving to be his nemesis, did not realise the power of the government and how the empire could hit back. Tharoor, who is new to the ways of Indian politics, tried to hit back, but all kinds of e-mails including the one sent by Civil Aviation Minister Praful Patel's daughter, nailed his lies. 

The e-mail by young Patel, who was employed by Modi, was an attempt to fob off Tharoor and his friends in the Rendezvous to stay away from the bid for the fourth edition of IPL. Highly placed sources claim that all these machinations were taking place to ensure that the bid by Adani and Videocon triumphs. 

According to information available with the investigating agencies, Praful Patel was keen that Videocon-Adani deal succeeds. A ball park figure of $300 million was mentioned that could help clinch the deal in their favour. Intriguingly, Rendezvous put together a bid of $330 million, which ensured that Kochi got the franchise. Sources in the government claim that another reason why Modi was upset with Tharoor and Rendezvous was the fact that they did not offer him 20 per cent stake in their consortium - as he had allegedly got in some other franchisees through different benamis. 

It is not clear whether Tharoor actually made money, but investigating agencies have put together sufficient evidence to show his involvement in the deal. There are also reports that besides Sunanda Pushkar, there is a senior editor of a glossy news magazine and a former cricketer who also have a stake in the consortium.

Lalit Modi, grandson of famous industrialist Gujarmal Modi, did not really expect that the government would retaliate. Even in 2009, when he was instructed by the home ministry to postpone the IPL T20 tournament on account of general elections and security considerations, he did the unimaginable when he shifted the entire tournament to South Africa. Transporting an Indian tournament to a different geography was a strange leap into the unknown, but he accomplished it with great panache. In a space of 45 days, IPL generated $2 billion worth of business in South Africa, thus compelling that nation's economy and leadership to notice Modi, and India, in that order. 

Modi was then rubbing shoulders with the South African elite and built an impression that national laws could not cramp his style. It is only now that income tax and enforcement department is looking into how Modi managed to organise such a big tournament that involved so much of foreign exchange. 

This is a very poor testimony of how Indian enforcement agencies go about their business. Surely, they would have been cognizant of the fact that the organisation of such an event would not have been possible without making provision for foreign exchange. No one asked Modi or BCCI about how and from where funds were being organised. It is apparent that the tournament enjoyed political immunity in 2009 that seems to have been withdrawn now.  

Congress party sources claim that both Congress President Sonia Gandhi and Prime Minister Manmohan Singh were quite incensed with the manner in which an arrogant Modi had brought grief to a minister of their government. Tharoor, despite his juvenile ways, was the chosen one as over the years considerable investment had been made in building his profile in the country. 

The instructions to the agencies, Hardnews learns, were very clear: "Fix Lalit Modi at any cost." 

This move was not only meant to restore the primacy of the government, but also restore the balance that had shamelessly shifted in favour of the corporate houses in recent times. IPL had created an impression that they had become brazenly autonomous of the government and the State was just meant to serve their interests. IPL matches were an exhibition of a new, brash, neo-rich morality where the State never asked any questions about how the funds were sourced or what was done of them. 

The investigation ordered by Union Finance Minister Pranab Mukherjee is slowly but surely peeling layers of respectability that these choreographers of hedonism had piled on themselves by aggressively using a friendly media. Details are emerging of how Lalit Modi was using the seed money that he built by fixing deals for former chief minister of Rajasthan, Vasundhara Raje. Modi served as a conduit for selling large pieces of land and heritage havelis in Rajasthan.

He was also apparently operating as an extra-constitutional authority, wielding enormous power under her regime, granting projects etc, according to the current Chief Minister, Ashok Gehlot.Investigating agencies are digging deep into Modi's relationship with Nitin Shah, who had served time in jail in 2006 for alleged murder of an employee, Suneja. Shah has a company that deals with high security number plates. During the Scindia regime, Shah managed to get Rs 1,000 crore worth of license that was later shot down when Gehlot came to power. Gehlot has been unsparing in his criticism of the Scindia-Modi enterprise and is quick to remind everyone that he had tried to investigate their corruption raj before he was stopped in his tracks by the court. 

Agency sources claim that Shah and Modi are very thick and they are trying to ascertain whether a company called Elephant Capital has been used by Modi to serve his purpose. 

Till now, the only major scam in the IPL pertains to the grant of TV rights. Approximately $80 million is the amount that is stated to be compromised as "facilitation money". BCCI sources claim that the crucial files are missing pertaining to a case that has involvement of some of Sharad Pawar's relatives. There are other worthies that figure in the two investment vehicles that were created for raising $80 million. Besides, Pawar's crorepati daughter, Supriya Sule, there is an actor of yesteryears, Jackie Shroff, who figures in one of the companies. 

There is some confusion about what is Modi's exact criminality. "Modi can be put behind bars under the Conservation of Foreign Exchange and Prevention of Smuggling Activities Act (COFEPOSA), Fema and even criminal cases like forgery," informs an investigator. 

There are suggestions emanating from BCCI that he manually changed the content of the bids. This is a serious charge, which sources claim was even discussed in the BCCI meeting. By demonising Modi, BCCI is obviously trying to show that it is innocent of all the acts of commission and omission that are at display in the conduct of the IPL. The governing council that was supposed to work together with the IPL commissioner visibly was not doing its job. 

BCCI, if its past conduct is anything to go by, is a hotbed of corruption and intrigue. There have been charges of match-fixing and financial embezzlement against many of its office bearers. Modi, it is learnt, is sending out discrete messages that if he is messed around with then he would spill the names of at least 27 individuals who are involved in match fixing. 

Although, charges of match fixing have not really been established, stories about funds from major betting syndicates bloating IPL fortunes have been going around for some time. "The bigger bucks would have come in IPL's fourth edition, when betting money would have come in torrents," claims an associate of Modi. 

From this standpoint, can Modi survive the current blitz of attack and counterattacks? The only hope for him lies in keeping under wraps many of those who cut deals with him at a personal level to sneak into various franchisees. He had the flexibility to part with the stake that he had cornered for himself. While the names of Sharad Pawar or his family members have been tossed around, there are others like Rajiv Shukla and Praful Patel who are also in the pale of suspicion. 

Sources also hint at a top flight lawyer and BJP-leader holding a major stake in the Delhi Daredevils. Then there is the son of a Congress minister who has a stake in one of the south Indian cricket clubs. The list, sources claim, is long and if the probe is done truthfully it would show how the IPL has spread its net far and wide to corrupt many members of the elite that rules India. Immunity for Modi and his gang would come from this age old practice of corrupting the progenies of those in power.

The government has handed over the investigation into the IPL to the income tax authorities, something that is unlikely to faze the hardened types very much. The only people that could come to grief are the amateurs in this business like Preity Zinta and Shilpa Shetty/Raj Kundra, who realised to their mortification that their stake does not show up on BCCI's balance sheet, as the BCCI president, Shashank Manohar has claimed. 

Zinta, who hugged every player and waved her flag on all occasions, would not know what hit her once the full implications of the composition of the team are made available to her. Even Shahrukh Khan's stake in the Kolkata team is far lesser than what was made out to be. 

It will be interesting to see how the big boys react to this vicious loop in which they are inevitably trapped, octopus like. It would be interesting to see whether the investigations reveal the presence of the drug mafia and hawala operators that routinely provide funds to terrorists and other malcontent. Also, the role of unknown companies and those situated in places like Mauritius. 

What would also be of considerable interest is to also see how Modi avoids the fate of the likes of Harshad Mehta and Abdul Karim Telgi, who still languishes in jail.

Will Lalit Modi be jailed? Will he meet the fate of Harshad Mehta and Telgi? Will he spill the beans on all those who shared the unprecedented dirty money pie with him, including powerful politicians and corporate fat cats across the elite spectrum? Will this big game casino figure out the dubious gamblers? Or will it be, as usual, another match fixed?
Sanjay Kapoor Delhi

Read more stories by Cricket in the time of cholera

This story is from print issue of HardNews

ADVERTISEMENT