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'I Met Warne At Five-Star Parties'
He has been described by the ICC's Anti-Corruption and Security Unit (ACSU) as a "major cricket gambler", one of the biggest punters who is known to "actively match-fix". For the record, the 39-year-old Ratan Mehta is a Delhi-based restaurateur-cum-businessman but he claims he is also a very keen cricket fan. Despite all the allegations against him—he is said to have fixed the 1999 India-Pakistan World Cup match at Old Trafford—Mehta has kept away from the media. In an interview to Murali Krishnan, Mehta finally breaks his silence. Excerpts:
In a deposition before the ACSU team, an Indian businessman has alleged you were seen coming out of a London restaurant with Shane Warne and Brian Lara during the '99 World Cup. The subtext was that you knew them and could have influenced their performance...
Look, that is untrue. Sure, I was there in London. And talking of being seen with someone, tomorrow if a photograph appears showing me with Sachin or Saurav, does that mean they are into match-fixing? Can one impute motive? Let's be realistic. I know lots of people as my status gives me the time to meet such people. Recently, I met Azharuddin at Karishma Kapoor's wedding in Mumbai.
Surely, all this talk of you hobnobbing with cricketers has some basis?
Look, I get invited for parties at nightclubs, farmhouses and hotels where these cricketers also land up. When the Australian team toured here last, the Australian cricketers were called for a party. I was invited too. The captain, Ricky Ponting, was there and so was Shane Warne. I met Warne again at another party at a five-star hotel. So what's the big deal?
Who are the cricketers whom you know personally?
I have told the CBI everything when I was questioned. Sure, I know the Pakistani cricketers. I know Javed Miandad, the former captain, right from 1988. I know Akram and Waqar. They are friends and all of them have visited my restaurant (Mini Mahal in Delhi's upmarket Vasant Vihar) because at that time it was popular and a happening place in Delhi. I have also presented them with shirts and mementos. That is because I am a social celebrity.
Why does your name keep coming up in all confidential ICC correspondence about match-fixing to various cricket boards? If you are not involved, why haven't you cleared your name?
That is what I would like to know. If a Pappu or Ballu from Delhi was involved in match-fixing or betting and was caught with cell phones in Pitampura, you think anyone would be bothered? It is because I was a punter and a big name in social circles that I am being dragged in. I am not involved in punting any more...it's been over five years. I am a restaurateur. The only proof they have is 'guilt by association'. And why I am not challenging it is because I am facing income-tax queries here. I have appealed against that. I have faced a lot of mental trauma.
How big is betting these days?
It continues to happen. Outside England, a lot of people bet in offshore venues, in Guernsey (in the Channel Islands), for example, to avoid the 10 per cent tax which is to be paid mandatorily on winnings. The betting sites are all on the web. For example, the odds on cricketers getting out hit-wicket is 80:1. Brian Lara has got out like this frequently. Recently Graeme Smith got out stepping on his wickets. (Incidentally, in the second Natwest series one-day international against New Zealand last week, Lara was hit-wicket trying to improvise in the final over.) But it's not cricket alone. There was lot of speculation that the Sweden-Denmark football match in the Euro 2004 was fixed. Finally, it did turn out to be a draw as was suspected.
What is the role of the "underworld" in cricket betting?
Everyone's involved.Business houses and politicians. There is big money at play.
You keep saying that you are being selectively victimised. Who then are the other 'players' in the market?
All I am saying is that instead of focusing on me, why don't the authorities also look at sponsors and agents of cricketers. Has any one investigated the major sponsors and promoters of the game? Some agents and managers of certain cricketers are big into betting and gambling. This is a very big industry which has huge monies at stake.
What do you think of the former Pakistani wicket-keeper, Rashid Latif?
When he is playing, everything's allright. But when Latif's out, he does a lot of finger-pointing. I remember a match being played in Sharjah some years back against Sri Lanka. Pakistan lost by 8 or 10 runs and the amount of dot balls which Latif played when he was at the crease left me thinking. Normally, my judgement is very good and I know why a particular player is playing in a particular manner.
Do you think the BCCI stopping 'masala matches' in unusual venues like Toronto has helped contain betting and match fixing?
The problem with the BCCI is that it has too much money. The board stops masala matches in offshore venues like Toronto and Dubai but now allows a major tournament to happen in Holland! If matches can be 'done' in Toronto or Dubai because these venues were not regular centres, they can be done anywhere. Dalmiya has got his priorities wrong. Gambling is the biggest market going. Also just because the ICC has installed closed-circuit television cameras in the players' dressing rooms and restricted entry to outsiders, match-fixing will not stop. Fixing, the ICC should realise, is not done in dressing rooms.
There was a request from the ICC, before India's last tour of Pakistan, asking the Delhi Police to arrest you because of your involvement in match-fixing.
Yes, I read that. Why have they not arrested me? The police knows my address, my telephone number, everything. I have never gone underground. In fact, I informed my lawyers and they were ready to file a defamation suit. But within a space of a few days, Malcolm Speed denied he had made such a request. Also remember, unlike others, I have never admitted to having asked players to underperform or fix a match. There are several others like Mukesh Gupta, Sanjeev Chawla and Kishen Kumar who admitted to the authorities that they were in contact with cricketers for a price. I will lead my life the way I want to. Nobody is going to stop me from watching matches. And who am I to play a role in (the recently concluded) Indo-Pak cricket series? Imran Khan himself had a premonition that the one-day series was rigged.
The ICC's anti-corruption unit alleges that you influenced Pakistani players to underperform in the '99 World Cup in England.
Where is the proof? These are just wild allegations not backed by any substantial evidence. The ICC has over the last three years spent over Rs 80 crore ($17 million) in gathering so-called evidence, flying down its ACSU officials who stay in five-star hotels and they have got nothing. These are just statements with no backing. Does the ACSU have only one name who is big on betting? Just me? Come on, ask them to do their homework better for all the money they have spent.
But match-fixing does not leave any paper trail. It is your word against strong circumstantial evidence that the ACSU has collected that you influenced the Pakistani players during the World Cup.
Once again, I tell you that if I actually wanted to influence the players I would have done all the matches. There is no value to these charges. They (ACSU) say I was involved in Pakistani players underperforming in the Old Trafford match versus India.If I can do one match, I could have done all the three matches that Pakistan did badly in. Remember they lost to Bangladesh as well. The ACSU has got it wrong. You think I'm a fool to approach cricketers over the phone, three days before a match.
And like I told you, others have admitted to having links with cricketers abroad. How about Mukesh Gupta's admission of giving monies to several cricketers? Why has that not been investigated thoroughly by the ACSU? What then is the value of these admissions?