IPL: FREE HIT for Sleazeballs

Published: June 3, 2013 - 11:36 Updated: June 6, 2013 - 18:09

Like the death of Badrish Dutt of the Delhi Police Special Cell, and Geeta Sharma, his partner, many of the dark stories will remain buried. But the fact remains, when it comes to the obscenely lucrative IPL, the cupboard is bursting with shady skeletons. And, fixers
Sanjay Kapoor Delhi 

On May 11, 2013, Delhi woke up to the mysterious death of Badrish Dutt, an officer of Delhi Police’s notorious Special Cell. Dutt was found dead with his live-in partner and private detective, Geeta Sharma, in a Gurgaon colony. Both had been shot in the head with Dutt’s service revolver. After a day-long investigation, the deaths of Dutt and his girlfriend were explained away as a “suicide pact” till the story found a twist a few days later.

On May 15, Delhi Police’s Special Cell blew the lid off match-fixing in the Indian Premier League (IPL). The police claimed that India and Rajasthan Royal fast bowler S Sreesanth was involved in match-fixing with two of his teammates. Bizarrely, the Special Cell was following up on the FIR that Dutt had filed a day before he “shot” himself.

An expert in intercepting mobile phones and call data records, Dutt was tracking the underworld when he came across a conversation about fixing IPL matches. “Secret information received in the third week of April 2013 that certain members of the underworld are involved in some sort of fixing of ongoing cricket matches of Indian Premier League with active participation of some unidentified conduits based in Delhi,” he wrote in the FIR. The Special Cell, that had investigated the cricket fixing case in 1999, took it up yet again even though it had failed to prosecute anyone in the first high-profile case.

Dutt was to leave for Mumbai with other members of the team to probe this case on May 12, but he did not reach the airport. Instead, he was found dead in his partner’s apartment. His death triggered speculation about links with the cricket fixing case, but the police was so firm about the cause of death that the “suicide pact” did not get much traction. The double death continues to remain a mystery.

There are reports that Meiyappan used to collect information about team composition and pitch condition from India and CSK captain MS Dhoni and other players of the team. Dhoni is also a vice-president in Srinivasan’s India Cements. There is an opinion that if he was truly conscientious, he should have resigned from the captainship of the CSK

While the police and the media lost interest in Dutt’s mysterious death, on the face of it there are too many linkages between him, his partner and the manner in which the fixing case burst into the open. Dutt and Sharma used to specialize in tracking mobile phones and analyzing call data records (CDR). There are dozens of reports in the media about how both used to collaborate on some projects.

Tracking phones is now big business and so is accessing CDR. Not too long ago, a Delhi Police member was arrested for accessing the CDR of the leader of the opposition in the Rajya Sabha, who is also the vice-president of the Board of Control for Cricket in India (BCCI): Arun Jaitley. Although the government took some action on this incident, it became apparent that the matter left a trail of unanswered questions about why Jaitley’s call records were sought and by whom. Did these records contain stuff so incriminating that it shook up the entire government?

Here again, there was another cold trail. No one knows whether those seeking Jaitley’s CDR had anything to do with the scams rocking the government, or with cricket, political and corporate rivals. Was it an inside job? The truth remains buried in cover-ups and obfuscation.

Dutt, according to the FIR he filed, learnt about match-fixing from call intercepts. He gathered that bookies were “contacting the cricket players who have been recently engaged by IPL sponsors at exorbitantly high prices for the respective teams with a view to stage-manage some matches for making windfall gains through several bookies who facilitate illegal gambling in the sport.” In short, the young inspector got to know how matches were truly fixed.

The theory that Dutt came to grief due to the cricket probe was brushed aside by the police, and the media too chose to kill the story. However, what has not yet been stated is equally crucial: what was the lady detective really doing?

A month before she died, she had been put behind bars in Tihar for cheating and impersonation. This was a cruel blow to Sharma’s profile and high ambitions. As she worked closely with the Special Cell of the police, she was confident that no harm would ever come her way even when she impersonated. The question is, what information was she seeking and who gave her out?

Reports suggest that Sharma was deeply upset that Dutt had not visited her even once in jail. Her proximity to other members of the Special Cell and Mumbai Police is also hinted at. Manifestly, there is a dark side to the relationship that, surely, the police would not like to share. 

There are too many uncanny dots that need to be connected before a clear, big picture emerges of the cricket fixing scandal that has rocked the nation and the cricketing world. It is quite like an iceberg, with much of the truth still hidden by the choppy seas of obfuscation and official prevarication achieved through controlled exposures and careful cover-ups. While juicy tit-bits are given out about bit players and shady bookies, the attempt is to contain the scam to a level where the venal, powerful and corrupt status quo can benefit from blackmail, subversion, cooption and manipulation.

While the gullible who cannot differentiate between the moral and the legal get blackmailed and manipulated, the real crooks merely find ways to further use this commercially lucrative league and people’s obsession for the game to fatten themselves. There is a Ponzi feel to the IPL in the manner in which the popularity of cricket is used to rake in money and then the games are manipulated to unreasonably enrich the promoters of the league. 

It is important to revisit the first cricket fixing case. Especially the one that was investigated by the Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI), to really understand what ails the game and how and why underworld and overground bookies and fixers are bringing in money. The CBI report is of 2000 when there were no 20-20 matches and all the excitement was reserved for One-Day Internationals (ODIs).

Despite all the noise, other members of the board, who are top politicians like Arun Jaitley, Rajeev Shukla, Narendra Modi, CP Joshi and Farooq Abdullah, across the political spectrum, have been surprisingly silent. Shukla and Jaitley work in close consort on most cricketing and parliamentary matters, so it is not possible that they had no clue

The report says that betting in cricket in terms of monetary transactions and volume of turnover is the most organized racket in the country. Rough estimates of any match involving India ran into hundreds of crores of rupees. This was in 2000 when the stock market was just 6000; now it is 20,000 plus.  Clearly, the quantum and value of betting has gone up many times over.

Whereas ODIs were few and far between, the IPL feeds a daily neurosis of betting and money-making, among other seductive and shady rituals. Now, it must be wallowing in thousands of crores of rupees on a daily basis. Due to the massively high stakes, there is a tendency among bookies to manipulate the game through players.

There is nothing unusual about fixing. Match-fixing takes place in football and allegedly even in individual sports like tennis. Players throw matches to earn more money. In India, there are plenty of incentives to bet and manipulate the game as there is no strict law to punish those who cheat and undermine the purity of the sport. Most of those who get picked up are slapped charges under the Public Gambling Act (1867), a bailable offence which attracts barely six months to one year in jail and a fine of Rs 1,000. This is hardly a deterrent for those who are playing with such gigantic stakes.

The CBI had earlier identified the bookies and how they were reaching out to the players to throw the matches in lieu of handsome pay-offs. Due to police investigations, players like South African cricketer Hansie Cronje, India’s Mohammad Azharuddin, Ajay Sharma, Manoj Prabhakar, Nayan Mongia and Ajay Jadeja were suspended for life. A few top players like Kapil Dev were allowed to go scot-free due to inadequate evidence.

In all these cases, the police action was meant to identify the malpractice and hand over the task of eliminating these ‘dirty players’ from the game to the BCCI. The CBI displayed serious inability to make an example of match-fixers in the prevailing legal environment. The legal advice that the agency got did not encourage the government to enact laws that could prevent the occurrence of fixing yet again.

There is a Ponzi feel to the IPL in the manner in which the popularity of cricket is used to rake in money and then the games are manipulated to unreasonably enrich the promoters of the league

Privileged sources claim that the match-fixing scandal did not really end in a whimper. One of the major fixers used to boast that he paid a few crores of rupees to someone really high up in the government. There is no way to verify these allegations, but the truth is that the report the CBI put together did not really serve any purpose except to create a titillating background for hacks to use it in the future.

Ironically, this match-fixing that took place pertained to cricketers playing under the ‘national flag’. Even the BCCI, a private and autonomous body, would issue letters to players to join the team in the name of serving the patriotic interest of the country. Legal experts always insist that any kind of malfeasance by them should have attracted the provisions of the Prevention of Corruption Act as they were in truth “public servants”. Such advice was never really entertained. Indeed, a premier league like the Euro Cup for football was conceived to ensure that such legal problems never show up.

Clubs based on city loyalties were created by Lalit Modi. Franchises were given on the whims of the BCCI and its flamboyant IPL commissioner: Modi. He was the new, cocky whizkid in town. New and old, clean and dirty money, rained on this game. Many of these franchisees had multiple networks of dodgy funds to back them. “There is so much shady funds in these companies that it is difficult to say who is the real owner,” claimed a disgruntled BCCI officebearer, speaking to Hardnews.

Clubs like the Rajasthan Royals, which has now got caught in a maelstrom of controversy on match-fixing, are a case in point. As in the current scenario, there was a clear conflict of interest. The franchisee was under the control of Modi, but other investors were brought in that have been the subject of intense scrutiny by the enforcement agencies. A lot of camouflage was apparent. Over the years, the IPL has been probed on charges of money laundering and manifest foreign exchange violations.

Shahrukh Khan, Preity Zinta and other franchisees have made their customary visits to the Enforcement Directorate (ED) to answer vital questions about the identity of their shareholders and sources of funding. Shilpa Shetty and her businessman husband, Raj Kundra, too have been asked to pay around Rs 100 crore as penalty for FEMA violations. Based on their investigations, the ED slapped 11 cases against the BCCI and Modi. Subsequently, the BCCI filed criminal complaints against Modi for shortchanging the board of the funds, running the IPL as his fiefdom and misappropriating funds, including broadcast and internet rights amounting to Rs 425 crore, players’ security fees worth Rs 15 crore and airtime value of Rs 20 crore.

Clearly, Modi (and his cronies and beneficiaries) saw in the IPL an opportunity to make a fast buck, and at a gigantic scale. Besides, he was charged for rigging the bidding process and helping out others. In other words, he had a say in all the franchisees that were playing in the league. Modi was also charged with a FEMA violation of Rs 60 crore. After being caught in a vicious and fraudulent nexus, Modi is still ‘absconding’, based in London and refusing to come to India because he is afraid he can be put behind bars.

Modi is now lashing out at the current president of the BCCI, N Srinivasan, and the owner of the Chennai franchise, the Chennai Super Kings (CSK). Srinivasan, who runs a $880 million cement company, India Cements, has been trying to neuter the influence that Modi still seems to exercise on the IPL; but the latest round of match-fixing can weaken his seemingly one-dimensional hold over the board. There are reports that other big owners are targetting him after the match-fixing scandal broke out.

Almost all Indian current and former cricketers have chosen to keep mum. Many of them, especially a couple of ex-cricketers turned commentators earning huge amounts of money, are seen to be close to the cricket establishment. They are either IPL beneficiaries or want to keep themselves in the good books of the BCCI, whichever lobby be the ruling regime 

The match-/spot-fixing scandal that began harmlessly with a maverick bowler (Sreesanth) and two bit players has been cleverly directed against Srinivasan. Besides the mess that the BCCI is in, the provocation for the attack has come after his son-in-law, Gurunath Meiyappan’s association with Vindoo Dara Singh, a small-time actor and son of legendary wrestler Dara Singh, was exposed. Vindoo reportedly told the Mumbai Police, which has also suddenly sprung into action to corner some of the cricket probe glory, that he was in touch with betting syndicates and mentioned the name of Srinivasan’s son-in-law, who was strutting all over as the ‘Principal’ of CSK. Meiyappan was also found sitting in the team’s dug out and cavorting with cheerleaders, an important fixture of IPL games.

The implications of these connections are dangerous for Srinivasan as they hinted at a deeper relationship between betting and the top rungs of the BCCI. When Meiyappan was summoned by the Mumbai Police, the television media went berserk, chasing his car from the airport in peak traffic on the streets of Mumbai – as if he was Dawood Ibrahim himself. Indeed, the car chase was positioned as prime time news on a particularly loud, pompous and self-righteous English TV channel. After his interrogation, he was also confronted with Vindoo and sent to police custody. His arrest showed his intricate and longstanding links with the betting syndicate, signifying the multi-layered nexus that has been stalking the IPL at the highest level. After this exposure, Srinivasan should have resigned, but he hung on.

Modi and the owner of Sahara, Subrata Roy, facing the heat from law enforcement agencies for various acts of omission and commission, attacked Srinivasan for corruption and creating a mess in the BCCI. It was a strange irony to see news channels giving space and legitimacy to an absconder and a businessman charged with financial wrongdoings. A Modi detractor said that he had no business to criticize Srinivisan for fixing when he himself created an endless sin-pit in the name of a cricket league.

Sahara, which has been asked to return Rs 24,000 crore to lakhs of faceless depositors by the Supreme Court, announced that it would withdraw sponsorship of the national cricket team and also withdraw its franchisee, Pune Warriors, from the IPL. Roy used the fixing scam to extricate himself from the IPL, which was basically aggravating his financial ruin. Strangely, his sports company, that owned the Pune Warriors, had claimed a profit within two years of coming into existence.

Sahara was not the only corporate house that decided to get out of the IPL. Before it, the Deccan Chargers, owned by the Deccan Chronicle group of Hyderabad, was forced to leave the league after running out of money. That franchise was rechristened and sold to Maran’s Sun Group. The Marans are directly linked to the DMK in Chennai. Kingfisher, owned by Vijay Mallya, also in the red, owns the Bengaluru franchise. It too is not looking too sanguine.

The shrill attack by Modi and Roy did not faze a thick-skinned Srinivasan, who refused to give credence to the allegations levelled by someone who had run away from the law. The highly prosperous BCCI chief also distanced himself from his son-in-law and stated categorically that he had nothing to do with the CSK. Those who know him say that Srinivasan is too “smart and hands-on” to not know what his son-in-law was up to. “Meiyappan is a fun-loving guy who was attracted to the game due to the glamour. He is not capable of big games,” claims a close friend of the family.

There are reports that Meiyappan used to collect information about team composition and pitch condition from India and CSK captain MS Dhoni and other players of the team. Dhoni is also a vice-president in India Cements. In a recent press conference, he remained mum when asked questions on match-fixing, and on the role of Meiyappan and the BCCI chief. He is currently being seen as an ardent loyalist of Srinivasan who is protecting his job at any cost. Indeed, there is an opinion that if he was truly conscientious, he should have resigned from the captainship of the CSK. Three players of the CSK are being mentioned for allegedly playing footsie with the bettors and fixers. There might be others involved too in other teams. If these reports have any basis, then it would finally destroy Indian cricket.

Almost all Indian current and former cricketers have chosen to keep mum. Many of them, especially a couple of ex-cricketers turned commentators earning huge amounts of money, are seen to be close to the cricket establishment. They are either IPL beneficiaries or want to keep themselves in the good books of the BCCI, whichever lobby be the ruling regime. Many of them were Sharad Pawar loyalists when he was at the helm, after Jagmohan Dalmiya, another unilateral satrap, was toppled. 

Despite all the noise generated by the media and police on match-fixing, other members of the board, who are mostly top politicians like Jaitley, Rajeev Shukla, Narendra Modi, CP Joshi and Farooq Abdullah, across the political spectrum, have been surprisingly silent. Shukla and Jaitley work in close consort on most cricketing and parliamentary matters, so it is not possible that they had no clue. Even Union Finance Minister, P Chidambaram, in casuals, was seen happily hanging out with Jaitley, in a recent one day match with Pakistan. Tough questions are being asked by the media and cricket-watchers about the silence of these worthies and how they have contributed to the sleazy mess the game finds itself in.

More recently, they have tried to dress up their intentions by going to Law Minister Kapil Sibal and requesting him to formulate a new law against fixing to take cognizance of the new realities. Sibal promptly addressed a press conference and stated that there is no law to fix fixers. “If there had been a law of sorts in India, the State would have been sued for crores of rupees,” claimed a lawyer.

Sibal seems ready with the law and proposes to introduce it in the monsoon session of Parliament. The day it is to be introduced, we can take it for granted that the BJP will not walk out of Parliament. After all, match-fixing is more important than the Food Security Bill.

Indeed, it can safely be stated that the IPL has given centrestage to everything that is garish, crude, illicit, shady and vulgar. New money, often dubious, generated during the years of economic boom, has been ploughed into creating an entity that is as flawed as much of our development experience. The IPL contributes to money laundering, giving legitimacy to fly-by-night operators and diabolical creatures that abound in most of the cricketing destinations.

The theory that Badrish Dutt came to grief due to the probe was brushed aside by the police, and the media too chose to kill the story. However, what has not yet been stated is equally crucial: what was the lady detective really doing?

There are stories galore about the cheerleaders from foreign lands. Although many of them are professional dancers trying to make an honest living by entertaining white skin-obsessed crowds, some of them are reportedly ‘used’ by bettors, fixers and all kinds of shady creatures for nefarious purposes. Sreesanth was one such fellow who fell into this enticing trap. After the first round of the IPL, the lavish, deal-making parties may have been banned, but there are plenty of other rackets to sustain the carnal cravings of interested individuals. Often, one thing leads to another.

Surely, like the deaths of Dutt and Sharma, many of these dark stories will remain buried. But the fact remains, when it comes to the obscenely lucrative IPL, the cupboard is full of shady skeletons. And, fixers.

 

Sanjay Kapoor can be follwed on Twitter at sanjaykpr

 

Like the death of Badrish Dutt of the Delhi Police Special Cell, and Geeta Sharma, his partner, many of the dark stories will remain buried. But the fact remains, when it comes to the obscenely lucrative IPL, the cupboard is bursting with shady skeletons. And, fixers 
Sanjay Kapoor Delhi 

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This story is from print issue of HardNews

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