Minister charged with wanting to move IPL Kochi franchise to Abu Dhabi

The verbal war between Lalit Modi and Shashi Tharoor intensified on Friday with the Indian Premier League Commissioner accusing the Minister of State for External Affairs of having a “hidden agenda” in the Kochi consortium's franchise bid.

“They are trying to put dispute into this. But we are here to stay. We have a robust league and we will continue doing a good job irrespective of hidden agendas. We will not allow Tharoor to try and shadow this up. Tharoor has a different agenda and it will be shut down, believe me,” Mr. Modi said.

He also alleged that Mr. Tharoor wanted to move the new IPL Kochi franchise to Abu Dhabi but said he would not let that happen.

“This morning, I learnt from a colleague of mine that Mr. Tharoor has approached, that he would like their support to move the team out to Abu Dhabi. I don't know which way they are going. The theme is to play in India. We will not allow any team to play outside India,” he told Times Now.

“All these allegations are to digress from giving the truth as to who the shareholders are and that's the key and that's what we are looking for. I will raise it in the next governing council meeting,” he said.

Mr. Modi had kicked off a row by revealing the names of the owners of Rendezvous Sports, including Sunanda Pushkar, a close friend of Mr. Tharoor, saying that the Minister was pressuring him not to divulge the names.

Mr. Modi also denied accusations that political pressure was put on investors to bid for the Ahmedabad franchise.

“There was no pressure from anybody. They went and met Mr. Narendra Modi. He told them very clearly that you won this franchise for Kochi, so keep it for Kochi. They came to ask me to move it. They should have bid for Ahmedabad. They had the opportunity to bid for it.”

Mr. Modi was also confident that there was no move within the BCCI to clip his wings by appointing president Shashank Manohar as IPL co-chairman.

“The constitution provides me to be chairman right now. There is no co-chairman position right now. We will deal with it. This is an internal matter of the BCCI and the IPL.”

He, however, admitted that there was a divide in the BCCI on the style of functioning.

“I am sure there will be a divide. We have lived with the divide in the past and we will live with it in future. But we are not going to allow it [IPL] to derail. It's a baby we have built together and we will preserve it and preserve it to the hilt,” he said.

Income tax queries

Mr. Modi faced queries from Income Tax officials till early on Friday morning on the ownership of franchises but he claimed that everything was found in order.

I-T teams reached IPL premises at the BCCI and the offices of Mr. Modi on Thursday evening and were looking at records till morning.

While no official comments could be obtained from I-T authorities about the inquiry they launched into the ownership of the different teams, including two that were given for a total of over Rs. 3,200 crore, Mr. Modi told PTI, “They have taken details and have gone back satisfied.”

“They did not know the bidding procedure and asked me about it. They also sought the names of bidders and final documents of successful bids for the Kochi and Pune teams. We have complied with all the information.”

Asked if he was quizzed for 7-8 hours, as the I-T teams left his premises only after 3 a.m., Mr. Modi said: “No they questioned me only for 15-20 minutes and they wanted papers relating to two teams. It took time to collect these from two or three different places.

“They took the photocopies and expressed satisfaction over the entire [bidding] process. We are open to scrutiny by any agency as we have done no wrong and are totally transparent.”

According to I-T sources, the agency, apart from probing the sources bankrolling the cash-flush league, is looking into whether ill-gotten money stashed away in tax havens like Mauritius has made its way into the IPL.

The IPL chief rubbished media reports that his laptop was seized and unaccounted cash recovered from his office. “Ninety nine per cent of stories being put out by the media are untrue.”

Ms. Sunanda Pushkar was given free of cost 18 per cent of the 25 per cent stake held by Rendezvous Sports in the Kochi team in lieu of her contribution for the project and marketing efforts.

Sweat equity

A businesswoman based in Dubai, she told PTI earlier this week that it was sweat equity and she was yet to get it. “It is still on paper only,” she said.

She had also debunked reports that the equity valued at about Rs. 70 crore was for fronting for Mr. Tharoor and said that she had been trying to associate with IPL since last year for which she had presented a branding and marketing concept to the Shahrukh Khan-owned Kolkata Knight Riders.

Mr. Khan's associate Karim Morani, who had discussed the concept with Ms. Pushkar, later told PTI that the discussions were on for the second season of IPL but no progress could be made after the event was shifted to South Africa last year.

Meanwhile, a senior I-T official said on condition of anonymity that “we may call him [Mr. Modi] for questioning as being a Commissioner he is involved in all the financial and other businesses of the IPL.”

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