The Czar On His Lost Domain
Modi says he resisted underworld attempts to fix matches
The ACSU's (Anti-Corruption and Security Unit) record in bringing players to justice is not impressive. Since 2000 only two players have been disciplined: Marlon Samuels, the West Indies batsman, was banned for two years for passing on information to a punter, and in 2004 Maurice Odumbe, the former Kenya captain, was banned for five years for receiving money from bookies.
The ACSU was slow to act on the threat posed by Mazhar Majeed, too. Twice they missed opportunities. In the Asia Cup in Sri Lanka in 2010 an ACSU officer was aware that Salman Butt and another player had lied to the team management about the reason they were leaving the hotel. They said they wanted to find some Pakistani food, but instead they went to meet Majeed. Then in the early part of summer 2010, a whistleblower emailed the ACSU with messages downloaded from Majeed's BlackBerry. The ACSU claim they did not have the manpower to react. The whistleblower instead went to the News of the World.
The ACSU lacks betting expertise. During the spot-fixing trial at Southwark there was disbelief in court when Ravi Sawani, who had quit his post as general manager of the ACSU in 2011, admitted that he didn't know what a bracket was. It was a damaging moment for the unit's credibility.
Condon (Lord Paul Condon, the former chairman of ACSU) and I disagree on whether it is possible in India to bet on the weird and wonderful markets that the ACSU have spoken of in the past: At which end a bowler will bowl, fielding positions, no-balls or wides of specific deliveries. I suggest to him that even a fundamental understanding of gambling in the country would raise doubts that such bets would be possible because of the way the bookmakers operate...
I have just told Lalit Modi that Lord Condon says that the illegal Indian betting industry is no longer run by the men whom Modi claims are trying to end his life. 'Where are they living?' he exclaims, the pitch of his voice pinging the ears. 'On which planet are they living?' 'I'm shocked to hear that. I'm in shock. I have had three assassination attempts on me for my stand on anti-corruption.'
Modi goes on to give details of the three incidents, claiming they were because he had refused to kowtow to the 'gangsters' in their attempt to fix matches in IPL. One was in Mumbai at the end of March 2009. "There was a shootout outside my house and one guy got killed and one guy got picked up,' he says. The other attempts came in South Africa in April of the same year and in Phuket, Thailand, in January 2010. On each occasion he was warned by police or the intelligence agencies.
'The entire underground betting system in India stops at the top of the pyramid. They are the book. Everybody else is a bookmaker, laying the bets. They are based in India, outside India, some across the border, in the Middle East.'
'Their access is very well known in India into other industries. Their access into working with many people and politicians is well known. They have respectable front men. Let' put it this way: A lot of the underworld have respectable front faces. People at the front will give you no inkling of the connection at the back.'
But what of the allegations of match-fixing in IPL-that Modi, to use his words against him, was that 'respectable' front? 'Absolute fantasy,' he says. 'Malicious fantasy. Some people are out to get me and they are desperate so they make things up. It's sad.'
The IPL, however, does have a poor reputation in the game for corruption. The ACSU were alarmed that it had no official ICC anti-corruption coverage in its first two years, while bookmakers like Parthiv and Vinay expect matches to be fixed. Even bookmakers in the UK had a distrust of the tournament.
'Spot-fixing is rife in the game. And I'm talking globally. It's a Pandora's box. It's staring you straight in the face, but difficult to prove. Almost impossible to prove. I say that from experience in cricket: Watching, broadcasting, dealing as an administrator for many years, looking at it and seeing it. I've been seeing, hearing what's been happening and that's not just from the IPL, but cricket as whole. IPL is one of the best-covered tournaments now, doesn't mean the others aren't, but are we doing enough?'
'Fixing can be done in many ways; it's not just the players. It can be other than players, those associated with the game who have an impact on the game. Pitch condition, giving out team information.'
Surely it is impossible, then, to claim that the IPL, particularly in the first two editions without ACSU protection, was clean? 'I think it was clean, but I could never, sitting here today, categorically tell you that we picked up everything for spot-fixing, and that goes for all games, not just IPL. It's extremely difficult to spot. We found undesirable elements in the stadium and removed them. We found them touring with players or managers of players who were in touch with the bookmakers and we removed them.'
On a previous meeting with Modi, he had given me the names of players he believed were involved with 'undesirables'. It was before Cairns won a libel suit against him so his tongue was looser. 'I have to be careful now,' he laughs. 'I don't want another libel case, nor do I want to get shot.' The players he named included superstars. The jaw would drop.
'Yes,' he says. 'They are big names. And I know a lot of players today globally who fraternise with big bookmakers, legal or illegal, and I don't see any reason why that should be (allowed).'
'I had to speak to the players myself sometimes. Of course, the conversation would go, "We haven't done it, it's not true, it's circumstantial, me? How's it possible? Me?" And that's how it went. I would say: "We know what we know, and we know what you know, so get it out of the game. Let there not be another incident." To everything there was an explanation. They had an answer for everything.'
'If a player is a soft target, he is a soft target, and there is not much anyone can do about that. IPL is not to blame for that. Twenty20 is not to blame for that. The ACSU have blamed Twenty20 in the past. Whether it's T20, odi or Test match, the same players play all formats of the game. Once the bookmaker makes you taste money he will extract his pound of flesh, he'll ensure he gets the co-operation in any format.'