The unholy nexus

Players, bookies and the underworld are equally to blame for cricket's latest quagmire.

Dawood Ibrahim Kaskar, the boss of the underworld group commonly referred to as 'D-Company', watching a cricket match in Sharjah was one of the most common sights in television. For want of any other images, such videos are played on loop whenever the ‘don’ is in the news.

The recently-filed IPL spot fixing chargesheet has exposed the complete stranglehold that this man has on the betting-fixing syndicate.

To quote the charge-sheet, ‘This syndicate has been found to be evolving over the years, beginning with smuggling of import-controlled articles in the late eighties, gradually evolving into a major source of financing and executing cross border terrorism, pumping of fake currencies and narcotics into India, apart from controlling hawala operations and high value protection money/extortion/contract killing in the underbelly of major metropolitan cities of our nation.’

The syndicate next began to micro-manage the bookies and betting syndicates through the already established network of fear. The chargesheet says Dawood is the fountainhead of the fixing-betting racket.

Murky dealings


While Dawood’s mention is certainly more “sexy” from a news point of view, the chargesheet poses some serious questions about the free intermingling between the bookies and international players. It is often said that a good chargesheet raises several pertinent questions and raises the scope of investigation.

This one too, especially through the statements of the ICC Anti Corruption and Security Unit (ACSU) and confessions of some of the bookies, eludes to the atmosphere around international matches which are conducive to the betting-fixing syndicate.

Testifying before the police Dharamveer Singh Yadav, Regional Security Manager, Anti Corruption and Security Unit, International Cricket Council (ICC) said he had personally spotted Sunil Bhatia (one of the bookies arrested in this case) trying to mingle with the players at three different international events.

“In 2010, while covering one of the bilateral International series in Bangladesh, I noticed Sunil
Bhatia approaching players in Hotel Pan Pacific, Dhaka. Bhatia was also observed at couple of places in Sri Lanka, but more information was not easily forthcoming. During the 2011 World Cup, when I was staying in Taj Palace hotel, Delhi along with some of the international teams, I noticed Bhatia along with Baburao and two more companions who were making attempts to corrupt some of the players staying in Taj Palace hotel,” says Yadav.

Powerless ACSU


Apparently, in all the three places Bhatia fled after spotting Yadav. This raises the question: Is the ICC’s premier anti corruption body ACSU basically a scarecrow? Is it a powerless, toothless body that plays a cat and mouse game with the bookies? If the same bookie was spotted so many times, why was no action taken?

Bhatia later confessed that he did try to get in touch with a number of cricketers through the years.

"I also got involved in fixing players. In 2009, I went to Sri Lanka, where I met one Gyan of Sri Lanka, who was a cheerleader and who used to accompany players of Sri Lanka everywhere. In 2010, Baburao Yadav and I went to Bangladesh for the India, Sri Lanka, and Bangladesh tournament. There Gyan had introduced me to … (names two Indian and one Sri Lankan player)… however I never discussed about spot fixing etc. with these players.”

It begs the question – what was a self-confessed bookie talking to players about, if it is was not about fixing?

Bhatia’s confession also indicates that earlier editions of IPL too allegedly had their 'fixed' moments.
"In IPL 2012, Ajit (Chandila) took a lot of money from Tinku through hawala. He did not perform on some occasions, but refused to return the money," Bhatia adds.


The Cricket Betting Syndicate

Chota Shakeel's role

This is also where, according to the chargesheet, Chota Shakeel comes into the picture.  

“Tinku (Ashwini Agarwal, another accused, told Dr. Javed (Dawood’s Dubai-based operative) that one Chandila was not returning the money and so requested him to speak to Chota Shakeel. He also gave Ajit’s number to Javed Chutani.”

Chandila eventually not only returned the money but also promised to fix in in this year’s IPL.

Another player who hasn’t been mentioned as one of the  accused, but whose role has raised several questions, is Sidharth Trivedi. He is said to have tipped off Rajasthan Royals management into buying Chandila. Special cell sources say while his role in spot fixing couldn’t be established, his nexus with the bookies was clear.

In a bizarre statement before the magistrate, Trivedi said, "One day, I saw Bhatia, Babu Rao, and Chandila sitting in the lobby of the hotel. I just said hello to them and went away. Later, Ajit informed me that he had received Rs. 1.5 lakhs from Sunil Bhatia and gave me Rs. 50,000 cash to spend.”

Disbelief

The statement begs disbelief – no one gives a player money jut to say hello.

The chargesheet also implies what is often whispered in the corridors of various stadiums -- that the bookie-player nexus is neither new nor is it limited to the IPL. The charge sheet refers to the well oiled machinery of D-Company that controls the betting syndicates in India.

“Investigation revealed that fixers, involved in compromising the players, were found to be taking instructions from bookies who themselves were further found to be connected to Dubai/Pakistan-based associates of Dawood Ibrahim and Chota Shakeel.

"The lawfully intercepted communications between these bookies in this betting/fixing racket, who were instructing fixers below the chain, and the Dubai based associate of Dawood Ibrahim, were specific and categorical about the illegal fixing/betting market operating in the sphere of cricketing activities and the related illegal flow of money through hawala channels between India, Pakistan, and Dubai."

"There were specific pointers to the effect that these bookies were not only known and connected to the Dubai/Pakistan based actors as their acquaintances but their linkages went much beyond, to the real don of this syndicate namely Dawood Ibrahim,” the chargesheet elaborates.

How the fix was uncovered


The special cell of Delhi police received a tip off from the Central Intelligence Agencies (of India) and began surveillance on certain numbers for their alleged terror, anti- national activities. It was while monitoring these numbers that they stumbled upon the conspiracy which was taking shape for carrying out spot/session fixing activities in the then recently commenced IPL cricket tournament.

In fact, it was sheer luck and diligence that helped them intercept the calls between Dawood (in Pakistan) and his operatives in Dubai. There was traffic congestion in the Pakistan-Dubai link, hence the call was connected through an Indian gateway.

Sreesanth’s role


The charge-sheet says Jiju Janardhanan persuaded Sreesanth to ‘participate in spot fixing in lieu of Rs. 60 lakhs (cash) for giving 14+ runs in the match between Kings XI Punjab and Rajasthan Royals’.

Call records and other evidence show that he was also given Rs10 lakh as advance but ‘Sreesanth could give only 13 runs in the second over after giving the pre-decided signal, despite his best effort to give more than 14 runs. There are intercepted voice calls to show that the fixers appreciated the efforts of Sreesanth despite the fact that he gave one run less and, therefore, decided not to ask for refund of the advance of Rs. 10 lakhs.’

What next?


Despite the best of efforts conviction in this case could be difficult for the prosecution, especially since there are no laws under the Indian Penal Code banning spot/match fixing. Under such a situation Delhi police have booked the players and bookies under clauses pertaining to cheating and criminal conspiracy.

To establish cheating they have attached complaints from independent cricket fans who say they felt cheated due to the acts of these players.

With the emergence of the Dawood and Chota Shakeel angle, the provisions of MCOCA has been imposed in this case. The defence lawyers say these charges are untenable. Rebecca John, Sreesanth’s lawyer, had alleged that the stringent MCOCA has been imposed to make the bail process difficult.

Chandila’s lawyer Rakesh Kumar told me that prosecution has not been able reply to single argument put forth by the defence during the bail hearing.

Sreesanth and Ankit Chavan are on bail right now, though special cell has filed an application for the cancellation of bail post the charge sheet. Hearing on that is on August 21. Chandila got a 3-day interim bail on account of the death of his brother, and is back in jail. His bail arguments are on in Saket court.

The next important stage in this case is the framing of charges. If the judge upholds the charges invoked on all the 39 accused (9 of them absconding) then it would mean all the players and the bookies could be facing a prolong period of trial in the case.

Final Word

It is however another point to ponder that the fault-lines run deep within the somewhat opaque governance that runs the game. In its crusade against the vices of corruption, cricket administrators have at best half-baked responses.

Even as the IPL has become every critic's favourite whipping boy with its alleged 'dark underbelly', the question that begs to be asked is what the ICC and BCCI sleuths have been doing.

The ICC’s ACSU takes home a whopping million dollars every IPL season for its services, yet it took the special cell of Delhi Police to unearth the latest chapter of betting and fixing mafia in the IPL. The ACSU is believed to be submitting regular inputs on corrupt elements, yet the ICC hasn't been forthcoming in naming and shaming them. A visit to any hotel that houses any cricketing squad will guarantee sightings of unwanted and suspicious elements hobnobbing with cricketers, while board bosses remain in slumber.

BCCI interim boss (for want of a better designation) Jagmohan Dalmiya while announcing Operation Clean-Up, had stressed the need to scrutinise financial transactions of all players and get all player agents accredited, to start with. Two months and more since Dalmiya did a Mark Antony, the BCCI  is remarkably mum on the issue.

Subhajit Sengupta, Senior Correspondent with CNN-IBN, is based out of Delhi and reports on crime and legal affairs. The above story is based on an extensive reading of the charge sheet filed by the police in the IPL match-fixing case.

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