Over a decade after the match-fixing scandal involving Hansie Cronje rocked the cricketing world, the Delhi Police Special Cell has smashed a spot-fixing racket in the ongoing Indian Premier League matches with the arrest of Indian pacer S. Sreesanth and two of his teammates from Rajasthan Royals along with 11 bookies and middlemen. The cricketers — all bowlers — had allegedly struck a deal with the bookies to fix the number of runs they would give in a particular over for payments ranging from Rs. 40 lakh to Rs. 60 lakh.
All the accused, who were arrested from Mumbai, Delhi and Gurgaon, were produced before a Delhi magistrate at his residence on Thursday evening. They were remanded in five days police custody. The Special Cell has seized 51 mobile phones from the accused, besides five laptops and a recording device.
The main architects of the spot-fixing scandal had roped in the cricketers through their conduits living abroad. Call intercepts with the police suggest that the main conspirators had suspected links with the Mumbai underworld and were operating from countries such as the U.K., U.A.E. and Pakistan.
Police investigations have revealed that Sreesanth was paid Rs. 40 lakh, his teammate Ajit Chandila was given an advance of Rs. 20 lakh, and Ankeet Chavan was offered Rs. 60 lakh. The spot fixing was done during three of the IPL matches. All payments were made through the hawala channel and would be probed by the Enforcement Directorate.
The Special Cell has tapped close to 2,000 calls running into over 100 hours of conversations among the bookies and the now-disgraced cricketers who were arrested in Mumbai in the early hours of Thursday.
The breakthrough was achieved in April after an electronic surveillance team chanced upon a lead while eavesdropping on a conversation between a bookie and a Mumbai underworld suspect having links with top fugitive Dawood Ibrahim. Incidentally, the team comprised Inspector Badrish Dutt — who along with his live-in partner died of gun shot wounds in Gurgaon last Saturday.
The call records of a bookie under surveillance led the police to a wide network of such elements operating from Delhi, Gujarat, Maharashtra, Punjab and other States. Some of the bookies were conspiring with the three cricketers to hoodwink punters. “We found that a group of bookies was in touch with Rajasthan Royals players Sreesanth, Ajit Chandila and Ankeet Chavan,” said Delhi Police Commissioner Neeraj Kumar at a press conference here on Thursday. The police have intercepts revealing all the three cricketers were in direct touch with the bookies. The Police Commissioner said on at least three occasions they fixed spots.
Drawing a parallel with the 2000 match-fixing scandal, Mr. Kumar said S. Sreesanth was paid Rs. 40 lakh through his close friend and a go-between named Jiju Janardanan alias Biju. The middleman, who earlier played for an Ernakulam cricket club along with Sreesanth, has also been arrested.
Mr. Kumar said the modus operandi included asking the bowlers to give a pre-decided signal to the bookies before executing their jobs. Among the proposed gesture codes were rotating wrist watches or wrist bands, playing with chains, using towels and taking off cricketing gear. The bowlers were asked to concede at least a given number of runs, based on which the bookies would fix high rates and invite bets. The bookies made profits running into crores in the process.
“The first match that came under our scanner was played in Jaipur between Pune Warriors and Rajasthan Royals on May 5. As agreed over phone, Chandila gave away 14 runs in the second over of his spell. However, he forgot to make the pre-determined gesture of lifting his jersey and vest, due to which the bookies could not invite bets. This led to a heated exchange between them and he was asked to pay back the advance,” he said.
At Mohali on May 9, during the match between Rajasthan Royals and King’s XI Punjab, it was allegedly Sreesanth’s turn to concede nearly 14 runs in the second over of his spell. He tucked a towel in his trousers and did a warm-up and stretching exercise giving out a clear message to the bookies that he was all game for spot fixing. He conceded 13 runs.
Before the third match on Wednesday between Rajasthan Royals and Mumbai Indians at Wankhede Stadium, Chandila allegedly lured Chavan into conceding at least 14 runs in his second over for Rs. 60 lakh.
Armed with sound proof, the Special Cell sleuths swooped down upon the suspects and arrested Sreesanth on Carter Road and Chandila from outside Inter-Continental Hotel where two of the bookies were staying. Chavan was sleeping in a Trident Hotel room when he was arrested at 2.30 a.m.