Glamour And The Go-Between
Pakistani starlet tried to buy Indian players
It is easy to find Dheeraj Dixit. Helpfully, the Indian media plastered his address across sport and news sections for much of September 2011. The cricket photographer, who travelled the world following the India team, had been accused of match-fixing. The claims were made by Veena Malik, a Bollywood actress of Pakistani origin who added the titillation to the story that had everything: The Pakistan spot-fixing scandal.
Veena was a former girlfriend of Mohammad Asif, the Pakistan bowler who was found guilty of producing no-balls to order. She had been on Indian television to expose Dheeraj Dixit as a fixer, a go-between. She claimed that Dixit and Asif had met in Bangkok to discuss fixing and she provided the ICC's ACSU with phone records in an attempt to prove it.
Veena, speaking on television, said of Dixit's claims: 'Come up with the proof. That's the easiest thing to do... the character assassination of a woman.'
Dixit, who admits to being 'very, very good friends' with Asif, did not keep his silence either and an old-fashioned war of words erupted between the two. Dixit said that it was Veena who was the go-between for Mazhar Majeed, the players' agent jailed at the Southwark trial of Asif, Salman Butt and Mohammad Amir. Dixit has alleged that Veena had approached him to put her in contact with Indian cricketers. Dixit is 'known of by the ACSU', whilst Veena has been 'spoken with'.
Regardless of who was speaking the truth, Veena appeared to get one thing right: Dixit knows a lot of Indian celebrities. This much is evident as I sit on the sofa of his apartment in the wholesome north Delhi neighbourhood of Pitampura. There is a picture of him, his wife and two children with Sachin Tendulkar hanging on the wall behind me. But that is not all.
'Look, I show you,' he says, beginning to scroll through pictures on his iPhone with various past and present international cricket personalities, interrupted by other stars and the odd tourist snap: Waqar Younis, Danish Kaneria ('in New Zealand'), the House of Commons, the mayor of Bromley ('receiving award for good pictures'), Benazir Bhutto ('she has died'), M.S. Dhoni, VVS Laxman, Pooja Bedi, a Bollywood actress, M.S. Dhoni again ('me and Dhoni in his hotel room'), Preity Zinta, another Bollywood actress, 'Pakistan winning the Twenty20 World Cup... here I am carrying the trophy at Lord's ... I am carrying the trophy here too', Sachin Tendulkar, Simon Taufel the umpire, Dhoni again, this time at Lord's, Tendulkar ('at the Lord's again, he is a very good man'). Get the picture?
His apparent access to players attracted Veena to Dixit. Dixit claims she called his home three times 'after 12 a.m.' when he was on tour with India in Bangladesh in January 2010, his wife answering each time. She said, "OK, is it possible to give his mobile number in Bangladesh?" She gave it. Veena Malik called me three days running. She told me, "I am Hindu, people in Pakistan are not safe." She was trying to get emotional intimacy. She wanted to meet Indian players. She also took the name of a few players, who she met, but I don't want to disclose the names because it is sensitive.' She met India players? 'Yeah.'
The reason why Veena was keen to meet players is a twist to the Pakistan spot-fixing saga, according to Dixit. Veena, he says, worked for Majeed and Asif.
'Majeed's a very cunning man. I don't know him, I've never met him.'
Dixit explains that Majeed was beginning to lose his grip on the Pakistan players, fearing that they were being bought off by rival match-fixers and that he needed new players to attempt to corrupt. 'Majeed's scared of all Pakistan players. Sometimes Veena Malik told me that they had ditched Majeed. That is why he was looking for Indian players. They demand four times bigger money, she told me. That is why she approached me. Asif told her only one man can do it and "that's Dheeraj". I was close with Asif. My friend. Yes, we were in Thailand (on holiday), but there was nothing shady. I helped him with many things when he came to Delhi to play in IPL, that's where I first met him. Now, as soon as I heard he was in match-fixing I don't know him.
'She offered me big sums. She wants me to be go-between. I said "no". I didn't take a single penny. It is not my culture. She told me, "Come to London, Pakistan matches are fixed in London." The last tour. I said: "How can you say that?" and she replied: "This year's matches are already fixed."
If Dixit is to be believed, then the timing of this information predates Pakistan's tour of England. Recalling that he said Veena contacted him on 13 January 2010, that is around seven months before the first Test at Nottingham. 'I think she wanted to show... I think she wanted to give me money to attract Indian players. She said "I can give you 15 lakh rupees (£18,000)." That's a lot of money. "If you fulfil your requirements."'
I asked Dixit whether it would have been so bad to take the money from Veena to introduce his friends in the India team. 'I can't do it 'cos my culture never allows me.' In fact, Dixit, who insists he only met Veena once but spoke 'many times' on the phone, says that he attempted to play whistle-blower by recording Veena's offers. He says he went to a newspaper reporter whom he regarded as a friend. 'I called a senior reporter in India that some girl from Pakistan is offering me money to fix matches. She had also told me to look for big businessman in India. Everything she said I told the reporter. I don't want to take his name. He told me how to record her voice. But I didn't know how to operate the voice recording when someone is calling you. She called me and asked: "What did you think about? I've already met the Indian player." 'I can't say who. I will be in trouble.' I mention the names of two players I have heard a lot of talk about. 'It's them isn't it?'
'You can do the permutation, but I will not take the name.' I press Dixit again for the names of the two players. Dixit shakes his head and wags his finger. 'I will not take the name!'