24 April 2000 Sports Cover Story: Match Fixing

Any More Bets?

Forget Hansiegate. There is taped evidence to prove Indian team members too were on the take.

The Hansie Cronje cricket scam has prised open a veritable can of worms which has already put a black mark on the game in South Africa. But Cronje’s case is just the tip of the iceberg. Outlook’s continuing investigations since 1997 into the betting/match-fixing scandal has revealed that at least four Indian players, past and present, were actively involved in match-fixing and betting in some way or the other. The players against whom serious allegations are being levelled are Kapil Dev, Mohammed Azharuddin, Ajay Jadeja and Nayan Mongia. These names have been knocking around for quite some time now. Following Cronje’s admission of guilt, sources have been more forthcoming.

However, more players could be involved. But without a formal investigation by any agency, match-fixing remains a clouded issue. Much of the evidence relating to match-fixing comes from the investigations conducted in the mid-’90s by the crime branch of the Mumbai police and the Directorate of Revenue Intelligence (dri). Like in the Cronje case, both agencies stumbled upon the involvement of Indian players while tapping the phones of bookies being investigated for serious crimes unrelated to betting.

The Outlook investigation involved speaking to police officials in Delhi and Mumbai, the Directorate of Enforcement, dri, the Intelligence Bureau (IB), bcci officials, former cricketers and bookies. Here are our key revelations:

The Bombay Tapes: The crime branch of the Mumbai police tapped bookmakers’ phones during the Titan Cup match between India and South Africa in the city in November 1997. The tapping was being carried out in the course of investigating an underworld murder. A senior police official involved in that investigation told Outlook that several conversations of Azharuddin, Jadeja and Mongia with the bookies were picked up. The conversations revolved around the fixing of the match result and information on the team. These inputs, passed on to the bookies, included the names of the four players who would get out first, the batting order of the Indian team and which team would bat first. The calls were made by the bookies to the Indian dressing room immediately after the toss.

"Miya, hamare liye kya kar rahe ho (What are you doing for us)?" one of the bookies was recorded as saying to Azharruddin, who tells him that everything had been done. The Indian captain signed off by saying "Mere paise udhar lagaa do (Put my money on the other side, i.e. South Africa)." The tapes reveal that even Sachin Tendulkar was contacted but he insisted that he would play his normal game.

According to the tape, Rs 20 lakh was paid to each of the three. The amount collected by the betting syndicate was Rs 400 crore. The bookies involved have been identified as Vinod Chembur, Ashok Royale, Bada Omar and Chotta Omar. The bookies, according to the police source, were in constant touch with dons in Dubai.

Another conversation picked up was the fight between Indian bookies and their counterparts in Pakistan and Dubai. The match in question was between South Africa and Pakistan and the Indian betting syndicate had fixed the Pakistani innings at 160. But the bookies in Pakistan and Dubai got together and apparently got the South Africans to throw away the match. There was much acrimony over this and underworld kingpins Chotta Shakeel and Chotta Rajan had to broker peace.

All the tapes are currently in the custody of the commissioner of police, Mumbai. The case was obviously not pursued because of pressures from above. According to a senior police officer, the tapes can be released only if a pil is filed and there is a court directive, or if the cbi or some other investigating agency asks for them.

The DRI Transcripts: Before an Asia Cup match in Sharjah in 1995, the dri accidentally chanced upon telephone conversations of bookies while investigating a hawala case. dri sleuths in Mumbai unearthed bookies discussing three or four cricketers in the national team. The tapping operation by the dri went on for a considerable length of time and revealed that at least three players were neck-deep in betting and match-fixing.

A senior officer in the Delhi intelligence unit, Ramesh Ramachandra (presently commissioner, Mumbai Central Excise), forwarded the transcripts to the then revenue secretary, M.R. Sivaraman, to ascertain if action could be initiated. Sivaraman, back after his stint with the World Bank in Washington, told Outlook from Chennai: "Yes, I received this body of vital information and forwarded the same to then bcci president Madhavrao Scindia, including the names of the cricketers to see if anything could be done."

However, Sivaraman refused to disclose the names of the players to Outlook and why action was not taken against those mentioned.

Outlook’s independent investigations have revealed three of the names: Mohammed Azharuddin, Ajay Jadeja and a former captain’s relative. The reasons why the bcci did not take action were because it would a) demoralise the team; b) reveal to the cricketing community what was actually happening; c) evidence wasn’t adequate.

The dri files are still at its headquarters in Delhi. Scindia was not available for comment.

Supreme Court lawyer V.K. Ohri’s revelation: A bookie linked to Sunil Sawant alias Sawtya is said to have told the Mumbai crime branch chief, Rakesh Maria, that he picked up the bill of former Indian captain Kapil Dev at the Holiday Inn. The bookie mentioned this was for Kapil’s "favours" during the 1994-95 series in New Zealand. Ohri - who was in Maria’s room when the bookie was being questioned - overheard the entire conversation. Ohri had gone to Mumbai in May 1995 in connection with the arrest of underworld don Babloo Srivastava’s associates, Chunky and Khanna. "I needed to question them," he told Outlook last week.

He remembers some important parts of the interrogation he heard while he was in Maria’s crime branch office in south Mumbai. "The bookie told Maria that he’d paid Rs 1 crore to Kapil in cash which had already been delivered," said Ohri. The Dubai and Mumbai betting syndicates had apparently made Rs 16 crore from the series. "That’s not all," adds Ohri, "I don’t recall the bookie’s name but he also revealed that a sum of Rs 25 lakh was paid to Kapil Dev by cheque. This was apparently for modelling for a brand promoted by the bookie which turned out to be a bogus claim," maintains Ohri. "The bookie finally admitted that there was no product he was marketing and said the cheque to Kapil was for betting considerations."

Ohri has given an affidavit to Outlook in this regard confirming he was present during the bookie’s interrogation.

Former team manager’s complaint: In a one-day series in Sharjah, Azharuddin was gifted a top-of-the-line Mercedes Benz 500 sel from a ‘well-wisher’ (read bookie) in Dubai. Jyoti Bajpai, the then team manager, complained to the bcci that there was more to this ‘altruistic act’ of the ‘well-wisher’. He also told the board that several of the players were accepting dinner invitations but only after 1,000-1,500 dirhams was paid for each dinner call.

Such charges are nothing new. That match-fixing and betting is a Rs 1,000-crore business is widely accepted. In Mumbai, it is almost completely ruled by five men: Soban, Harish Harde, Vinod Chembur, Shyam Chembur and Babloo. Operating via cellphones, they have a well-entrenched net of bookies across the city, recording the entries of those who place huge sums for every game. It is a countrywide convention that the bookies’ commission is the standard 2 per cent. "Even for insignificant games like Bangladesh and Kenya, the amount wagered was close to Rs 200 crore," says an IB official. And the bookies in Mumbai have their counterparts in Delhi, Calcutta, Bangalore and other smaller towns, where betting has witnessed a sharp spurt.

But the fountainhead of the betting syndicates is Dawood Ibrahim’s D Company. "Many think that the bookies fix matches. That’s not true as punters in Dubai are the ones who call the shots," says a top Mumbai bookie. For any India-Pakistan clash, especially in Sharjah (the hub of match-fixing, say bookies), Dawood-controlled betting syndicates step in and Mumbai bookies, as an unwritten rule, lay off. And Dawood’s influence extends to players as well.

How else can one explain members of the syndicate entering the press enclosure in Sharjah during the 1995 Asia Cup when a Pakistan-India league match was in progress? "They (bookies) told mediapersons that an Indian reserve player had given them access. When they were finally evicted, they had a tete-a-tete with the Indian player concerned," says a former bcci president.

If a cricketer can be "bought", the syndicates, say insiders, make a killing. Even with commitments like letting the bookies know the composition of the team or the bowling changes, the cartels still stand to gain.

But there have been times where defeats were inexplicable. For instance, then Indian coach Madan Lal told the bcci members that an inquiry was needed after India lost a match to the Windies in the 1997 tour, failing to get 120 runs in the fourth innings of the Barbados Test match. He voiced his fears to president Raj Singh Dungarpur that the game was rigged.

That Indian cricketers are given to betting is not new. "It is just that nothing has been done about it. It is high time we get to the root of this scandal," says an ex-cricketer. Former bcci president and current president of the Punjab Cricket Association, I.S. Bindra, warned four Indian players for placing bets with the bookmakers, Ladbrokes, in London.

With the betting syndicate spreading its tentacles, the game has certainly taken a beating. With even the outcome of matches being predetermined by bookies, player interest often is sorely lacking. A former physio who used to send confidential reports to the bcci after every series found that the "attitude" of some players was unsatisfactory. "Azhar showed disinterest in playing the game. If you want to link it to match-fixing, that’s your inference," he told Outlook.

While Union sports minister S.S. Dhindsa has promised a probe into the Indian angle, it is the bcci which must take the lead in stemming the rot. But for that, it has to seek the help of investigative agencies rather than appoint a toothless committee.

Next Story : ‘Time For Me To Get Up To Speed Again’
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