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Caught Out!

He's blown the whistle on others, but Manoj Prabhakar is no saint either

Caught Out!
outlookindia.com
-0001-11-30T00:00:00+0553

Manoj Prabhakar may have stunned the world last week by his revelations about being offered money by Kapil Dev, but fresh investigations by Outlook prove that he is one of the main beneficiaries of match-fixing himself. Though his name's been doing the rounds for some time now in cricketing circles, the latest evidence emerging from the Directorate of Revenue Intelligence (dri), the Mumbai police and independent sources say conclusively that Prabhakar was actively involved in fixing matches during his playing years.

On the basis of conversations monitored by the Mumbai Crime Branch, interrogation of bookies in Calcutta and Mumbai and intercepts of their messages and informal accounts of other players, investigators now say they have no option but to focus on the role of Prabhakar, who till now has claimed to be a catalyst in cleansing the game of cricket.

Outlook's continuing investigations into betting/ match-fixing scandals over the past few weeks reveal that Prabhakar was one of the four cricketers mentioned in the transcripts recorded by the dri which were passed on to the then bcci chief, Madhavrao Scindia. In addition to this, his name also figures in tapes recorded by the Crime Branch of the Mumbai police, while intercepting messages from bookies. He is also mentioned by former Pakistan wicket-keeper Rashid Latif as being one of the several Indian cricketers who called him to find out about pitch conditions and other match details.

Fresh leads obtained by Outlook reveal that Prabhakar was being mentioned often in telephone intercepts which were tapped by dri sleuths while investigating a hawala case involving a Dubai-based don and a Mumbai businessman in the early '90s.

An authoritative source in the dri, involved directly with the operation, testified to Outlook this week: "His name was quoted often and sums of money were also mentioned when these bookies were talking." The other cricketers whose names figured often in the taped intercepts were former cricket captain Mohammed Azharuddin, wicket-keeper Nayan Mongia and Ajay Jadeja. The tapping operation by the dri was carried on for many, many months. "All their names were being bandied around. It distinctly gave the impression that they were involved directly or indirectly in some match-fixing deals," says the dri source.

But he's quick to add that the dri couldn't establish a direct 'motive' then on why these cricketers were being talked about by anti-social elements. "The intelligence which we gathered at that time was explosive enough to be taken ahead. If we were given the go-ahead, we could have hit paydirt," says the source who was monitoring the conversations. Since there was talk of match-fixing and money involved, the dri (Intelligence Unit) passed on this body of information to then revenue secretary, M.R. Sivaraman, in 1993.

Sivaraman, one of India's most distinguished bureaucrats and who has handled several sensitive investigations, had told Outlook in earlier interviews that the phone intercepts were important enough to warrant action. He passed on the same to Scindia, hoping that follow-up action would be initiated. "I did what I thought was best and gave this important body of information along with the four names to Madhavrao Scindia, whom I have known for long," he told Outlook on Thursday. It is still not known why the bcci did not take the next logical step of pursuing these significant leads.

Evidence of Prabhakar's involvement in match-fixing doesn't end with the dri tapes. Fresh evidence obtained by Outlook reveals that his name also cropped up when a Titan Cup match was being played out between India and South Africa in Mumbai in November 1996. "The tapping was done while we were investigating an underworld murder," says a senior police officer.

 

The names the police stumbled upon were - once again - Prabhakar, Azhar, Jadeja, Mongia. Prabhakar's name figured prominently even though he had stopped playing for India earlier that year. He represented India for the last time in the league match against Sri Lanka in the 1996 World Cup played at the Ferozeshah Kotla in New Delhi. He retired from first class cricket the next year. But police say, despite this, he continued to be actively involved in match-fixing through contacts in the team and bookies.

A senior police officer involved closely in the investigations confirmed to Outlook that Prabhakar was a key figure in match-fixing. "Prabhakar was as guilty as - if not more guilty than - the people he's pointing fingers at," he says. According to him, Prabhakar's name figured regularly when talking to some former cricketers. So when he decided to take the lead in exposing betting and match-fixing, it was only in order that we do some checking ourselves, the officer, who requested anonymity, says. When pointed out that Prabhakar had been blowing the lid on others, the police officer quipped: "Sau chuhe khake billi Haj ko chali (It's a holier-than-thou facade)." Prabhakar's name also figures in the case diaries of the officer.

The Mumbai tapes contain two sets of conversations, one in which the police monitored conversations of Prabhakar, Azhar, Jadeja and Mongia with the bookies showing their respective levels of involvement in match-fixing. "It was a case of spread betting (betting undertaken on various aspects of the game, not necessarily the final outcome) and the returns were enormous," says a reliable source. The other set was between Dubai-based dons and their Mumbai operatives, in which Prabhakar's name cropped up often enough to warrant attention. The talk revolved around the fixing of the match result and information on those playing in the team.

This important information which was passed on to the bookies consisted of the batting line-up, which team would bat first and those who were likely to get out cheaply. The calls were reportedly made by the bookies to the Indian dressing room after the toss. The tape which contains these damning disclosures also details the monies paid to the players for their "assistance". According to the tape, Rs 20 lakh was paid to each of the four. The amount which was collected by the betting syndicate was a whopping Rs 400 crore. In one particular conversation, a bookie asks Azharuddin: "Miya, hamare liye kya kar rahe ho? (What are you doing for us?)"

Underworld sources point out that a cricketer need not be part of the national team to be a friend of the betting syndicate. "Retired players who have a close rapport with the team have come in handy as a link between members of the team and the syndicate," says an underworld don in Mumbai. He adds, "We cannot go into the dressing room or even to the hotel where the team is staying. But a former cricketer has access and has friends in the team."

Latif, who has shared his thick dossier on match-fixing with Outlook, has also named Prabhakar as one of those calling him up at home for details of matches. The other players who Latif says called him are Azharuddin, Jadeja, Venkatapathy Raju and Navjot Singh Sidhu. Latif has stated that they used to call him up at home to find out how the pitch was, whether it would aid batsmen or bowlers and what the weather was like. In Latif's reckoning, they (the Indian players) had to pass on the information to other people and he had no hesitation in parting with such information.

These new revelations will put the spotlight right back on the man who finally broke his silence recently by naming Kapil as the player who reportedly asked him to underperform in a Singer Cup match in Sri Lanka. Repeated calls to Prabhakar's residence to elicit his response on the fresh disclosures met with no response. The cbi's mandate, which is to investigate Indian players only, may now have another name to contend with. The match-fixing controversy gets murkier and murkier.

 

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