“It is the insidious effect of your actions on professional cricket and the followers of it which make the offences so serious. The image and integrity of what was once a game, but is now a business, is damaged in the eyes of all, including the many youngsters who regarded the three of you as heroes and would have given their eye teeth to play at the levels and with the skill that you had…,” were the opening remarks of the Southwark Crown Court in England that in November 2011 held bookie Mazhar Majeed and three Pakistani cricketers Salman Butt, Mohammad Asif and Mohammad Amir guilty of fixing spots.
The judgment came about a year after the nexus was exposed by a British tabloid through a sting operation in 2010.
However, despite having sniffed a deep conspiracy between bookies and prominent cricketers to fix cricket matches way back in 2000, cheating millions of followers in a cricket crazy nation, it has taken the Delhi Police 13 long years to finalise their charge sheet. They plan to file it in a couple of days.
Internal enquiries into the procrastination indicated that investigators had been restrained for long from taking the matter forward. Things moved only after Police Commissioner Neeraj Kumar put his foot down and insisted that the final report be filed at the earliest.
Among those to be chargesheeted is the disgraced South African skipper Hansie Cronje. Since he is dead, the South African authorities have virtually declined to share information relating to his phone and bank transaction records with the Delhi Police. The letter rogatory in this connection has not been honoured.
Sanjiv Chawla, the alleged bookie and the mastermind, remains at large far away in the United Kingdom. In response to a letter rogatory, the investigators have so far obtained “indecipherable” bank statements that have led them nowhere. “The transactions do not show exactly from where the funds were channelised or to whom they were forwarded. However, we have other evidence linking him to the case,” said a source. Only when the charge sheet is filed would the British authorities entertain extradition requests.
Police investigations have revealed that Chawla operated through a close group of trusted men, some of whom were identified as Krishan Kumar (brother of the late T-Series owner Gulshan Kumar), Rajesh Kalra, Sunil Dara and Manmohan. They too will be mentioned in the charge sheet.
Incidentally, the Central Bureau of Investigation in its wider probe into the alleged cricketer-bookie nexus had found that Chawla, Kalra and Dara operated as bookmakers/punters and had links with prominent Indian and international cricketers.
The Delhi Police discovered that Chawla would travel and stay with the cricketers with whom he had struck deals. He allegedly met Cronje the first time in South Africa in 1998 and trailed him throughout the subsequent South African team’s tour to India. They would stay in the same hotel and interact over the phone when Cronje was away. The CBI probe revealed that Cronje started hobnobbing with alleged bookie M.K. Gupta way back in 1996 after being introduced by a prominent Indian cricketer. He came to know Chawla through the same cricketer and another Indian pacer.
“The bookies would make money by fixing betting rates knowing full well the outcome and punters would fix cricketers and stake huge sums, assured of a handsome profit,” said an officer.
To prove the case of cheating and conspiracy, the police have a huge pile of call records and recorded conversations that form a crucial part of the circumstantial evidence they believe will stand judicial scrutiny.
Unlike in the CBI’s case, where evidence was not considered enough to prove cheating as a punishable offence, the police hope to fill the critical gap with statements from aggrieved spectators who said they paid to watch matches they believed were being played in the true spirit of the game without the slightest inkling that all the excitement was a farce and the ultimate outcomes had been scripted.