Betting scandal circle widens
Disclosure after Jaswant check
Pretoria steps in
Home doubts on language, delivery style
Calcutta weather

New Delhi, April 8 
The Delhi police, caring tuppence for Hansie Cronje’s strong denials, are pursuing their investigation into the betting scandal with gusto and zeroing in on Kishen Kumar, younger brother of slain music baron Gulshan Kumar, in the deals clinched between bookies and the South African cricketers.

Kishen Kumar, who runs music recording studios in Noida and Mumbai and is often described by his critics as a “failed actor”, has emerged as what the Delhi police believe after their grilling of the arrested bookie, Rajesh Kalra, to be a key player in the deal to which Cronje responded positively and became an “active participant”.

Joint commissioner of police (Crime) K.K. Paul disclosed late tonight that Crime Branch sleuths of the Delhi police would question Kishen Kumar, indicating that a second arrest in the sensational betting case during the South Africa-India Pepsi Cup series, allegedly rigged by Cronje and Indian bookies, was imminent.

The police said Kishen Kumar, a resident of posh Greater Kailash-II, close to Kalra’s residence, had sensed the police’s course of action and got himself admitted to a city hospital. “We are not ruling out more arrests,” a senior police officer said, insisting that “so far we have reliable information and doing our best”.

What the Delhi police lack now is “definite proof”. They are looking a bit “callous at the moment” because of the easily identifiable loopholes in their case against the racketeers. Their voice-matching examinations are yet to be completed and the transcripts of the conversation they have in their possession are as yet “garbled” in parts and cannot really be unscrambled.

Besides, the Delhi police are pursuing their case on the basis of a Supreme Court judgment that a recorded conversation is admissible as an evidence. But voice-recording cannot be fool-proof evidence by itself and can only figure as a part of a package of proof placed before a court. It does not mean that the taped conversation will be treated merely as “accessory” evidence, but it has to be corroborated by other proof admissible in a court.

The Delhi police admitted today that they have a long way to go. Delhi crime branch deputy commissioner Pradeep Srivastava said the “investigation procedure was on” and that all the “voice-testing” was yet to be matched. So, the senior officials were as yet unconvinced of the final shape of the case. They said that more arrests would follow and the entire shape of the betting scandal would become conspicuous in the days to come.

With backing from crucial ministries, the Delhi police seemed little concerned about the comments made by either Cronje or Sourav Ganguly, the winning Indian skipper.

They did not want to go into the details of the case at this moment and only revealed that they would send a team to Mumbai once they obtained a further “police remand” of the immediate accused, Kalra.

Srivastava said they would produce Kalra in court on Sunday and then a decision would be taken on the future course of the investigation, depending on how many extra days of “police remand” is granted by the judicial authorities. It was evident from what Srivastava said that there were a lot of gaps which the Delhi police needed to fill up.

What was evident is that the Delhi police are not ruling out the possibility of the involvement of Indian cricketers. “No one is above board,” said Srivastava. When grilled on the possibility of Indian cricketers being involved in the stakes, Srivastava only smiled and said: “We were neither ruling it out nor ruling it in.”

The theory is that South Africans had to lose if Indian cricket had to keep alive its momentum and not be cowered by the spate of losses it suffered both under the captaincy of Mohammed Azharuddin and Sachin Tendulkar. If Hansie Cronje gave way to “temptations”, it is quite clear that the bookies had their plans worked out and had paid the right people to accomplish the “right kind of job”.

The Delhi police are refusing to implicate the brother of the music baron since they have not yet arrested him.

Obviously, they want more names operating within the ring of conspirators before they come out with the full list. Their only source at the moment is the arrested Kalra whose marriage scheduled on April 16 would have to be deferred or cancelled.    

New Delhi, April 8 
The home and foreign ministers were aware of the investigation into the alleged cricket betting scandal, government sources said today.

The claim rebuts theories that Delhi police went ahead with the news conference yesterday without permission from either ministry.

The foreign ministry’s permission was crucial because the “accusations could bear upon the relations between the two nations and invite libel”.

Top government sources told The Telegraph that security agencies got wind of the tapping of cellphones used by Hansie Cronje and bookie Sanjeev Chawla, now believed to be in London, at least four days before the police decided to go public with some of their findings.

On April 3, security officials informed home minister L.K. Advani that Delhi police had stumbled upon a potentially sensational case of match-fixing involving South African cricketers. “The home minister was kept informed. It was pointed out to him that Delhi police’s crime branch had intercepted several conversations between Cronje and Indian punters to rig some matches,” the sources said.

Advani is then believed to have got in touch with foreign minister Jaswant Singh, who in turn “took a couple of hours” to get back to North Block after apparently having discussed the possible diplomatic fall-out of the revelations.

Singh is understood to have asked for some of the “hard” evidence uncovered by the investigators. He is also learnt to have spoken to Johannesburg.

Only after the foreign minister was satisfied with the evidence did he give the go-ahead to the home ministry to release portions of the transcript.

Singh’s intervention was considered vital for diplomatic reasons. After all, officials argued, cricket was a great leveller in international diplomacy, especially in case of India-Pretoria relations.

Long untouchable because of its apartheid policy, South Africa was taken back into the international fold in 1990. In November the following year, the Springboks under Clive Rice toured India and played a series of one-day internationals. It was their first tour after the ban was lifted.

However, during the Non-Aligned Meet in Durban a couple of years ago, then South African President-elect Thabo Mbeki (he later succeeded Nelson Mandela), much to New Delhi’s discomfiture, committed a faux pas by making what India considered were “undiplomatic” references to Kashmir.

During the Kargil war, both countries found the opportunity to mend fences. South Africa realised India’s potential as a lucrative arms market. The defence establishment here placed several orders for artillery shells, particularly for the 155 mm Bofors gun, with a firm called Danel. The company has begun supplying the shells, each costing $1,000.

Since then, the relationship has thrived. South Africa has gained monetarily by keeping up the arms supply while India has found a burgeoning arsenal in this powerful nation which moulds the diplomatic attitudes of a number of neighbouring countries.    

Dhaka, April 8 
Yesterday, the United Cricket Board of South Africa (UCBSA) took the lead in expressing outrage at match-fixing allegations against captain Hansie Cronje and three others. Today, the Pretoria government has got into the act.

“Ms Maite Nkoane-Ramashaba, our high commissioner in New Delhi, will seek an urgent meeting with your foreign minister (Jaswant Singh)... The allegations have massive ramifications and we are very hurt the image of our cricketers and, indeed the country, has been tarnished,” UCBSA managing director Ali Bacher told The Telegraph.

Speaking from Johannesburg, Bacher confirmed a “detailed discussion” with South Africa’s deputy foreign minister Aziz Pahad, this morning, after which the government stepped in aggressively.

“While we vehemently deny everything alleged, it does appear the phones of all South African cricketers were tapped (while in New Delhi, during last month’s one-day series). Well, who okayed that and, in any case, protocol is followed in these matters. How would the Indian government and people react if they learnt their players’ rooms were bugged at the Sandton Sun (in Johannesburg)?” Bacher asked.

It’s one more good question.

Bacher added he spoke to Cronje, too, this morning and the much-respected captain reiterated what he said yesterday: That the allegations were without basis. In fact, though advised not to speak ahead of a media conference tomorrow evening, in Durban, Cronje has himself issued a firm denial.

Incidentally, today is Hansie and wife Berta’s fifth wedding anniversary. Obviously, they could have done without the sensational “gift” from the Delhi police, but the UCBSA’s whole-hearted backing should have lessened their anguish.

Meanwhile, everybody on the circuit simply refuses to believe Cronje could be involved.

“It’s more than just shocking... But, don’t push me for anything else,” pleaded Lance Klusener who comes through clean in the transcript made public. So distressed was Klusener, he didn’t even react to having been painted in the brightest of colours.

Srinivas Venkatraghavan, a former India captain and one of the umpires in the Cricket Next.Com game, while expressing the common sentiment, made a wonderful gesture by adding: “Having umpired many matches where Cronje was one of the captains, I can vouch for his integrity. Absolutely.”

Raj Singh Dungarpur, ex-BCCI president, felt the allegations have hurt India hard, too. “Just look at the impression... That games in India get fixed... I can’t believe what I’ve heard and read, but the damage has still been done.”

Significantly, Delhi police didn’t take anybody in the BCCI into confidence. Even the ICC president, who happens to be an Indian — Jagmohan Dalmiya — wasn’t informed. “I had no inkling,” Dalmiya confessed this afternoon, promising that the ICC “wouldn’t” sweep anything under the carpet.

A strange twist, however, has been provided by some sources in the cricket fraternity. It’s bizarre, to begin with but, if true, we are in real dangerous times.

If they are to be believed, the bagging of cricket telecast rights by one channel — including that of some high-profile masala matches next month — hasn’t been well received by another. As Cronje helped “recruit” top-notch teammates, the “affected” channel reportedly worked overtime to fix its rival and Cronje. Of course, this is only being whispered in these parts, but that itself is bad enough.    

Indian police have become embroiled in a diplomatic row between South African and Indian governments after match-fixing allegations against Hansie Cronje.

Already strong suspicions are emerging that the tapes the Indian police claim implicated Cronje and three other players, do not contain the voice of Cronje at all. Despite the claims in New Delhi, the tapes are not being released to the media to enable them to make up their own minds and none have as yet been heard in South Africa.

There are also serious doubts about the transcripts: the language, style of voice delivery and grammar are clumsy and non-South African.

Already the episode of the police media conference in New Delhi on Friday has done much to sour relations between the two governments. Both countries have a record of a strong, harmonious relationship since the overthrow of the apartheid regime in the early 1990s. This is now seen to be being tarnished by what is regarded as a bungled effort to smear Cronje and three other members of the side, Nicky Boje, Pieter Strydom and Herschelle Gibbs.

Yesterday, the South African government stepped in, voicing its concern over the allegations while there is also anger at official level over the lack of protocol used in the handling by Indian police of what is now looked on as the so-called exposure of match fixing claims.

The United Cricket Board issued an official press release on Saturday, confirming that the South African government is to contact the Indian government to convey this country’s concerns about the match-fixing allegations levelled against four South African cricketers.

Aziz Pahad, the deputy minister of foreign affairs, yesterday assured UCBSA managing director Ali Bacher that the government would seek an explanation for reports that South African players’ telephones were tapped while they were on an official cricket tour in India.

The government is also to ask for an explanation regarding the process by which the allegations against the four players were made public.

No Indian official has yet contacted the UCB, the players concerned or South African officials in India or in South Africa.

Bronwyn Wilkinson, a UCB spokesperson, said the Board is dismayed that the integrity of South African cricket and its players has been questioned. Bacher commented: “We remain adamant that our players have never been party to match fixing.”

Cronje has declined to comment further on the issue.

In another move, Kepler Wessels, whose place Cronje filled in late 1994 has, in his weekly column, strongly supported the players implicated.

Now a national selector and highly respected in UCB and world cricket circles for his outspoken and frank approach, Wessels said it was now time the fight against corruption started and in this country, he commented.

What is needed is an independent, transparent and conclusive inquiry into the match-fixing allegations with South Africa, India and the International Cricket Council each conducting their own investigations, Wessels said.

“Knowing the players the way I do, I cannot believe that they would be involved in something like this,” he wrote.

Questions have also been asked about the veracity of the Indian police’s probe and why they only released such hard evidence on Friday, almost three weeks after the side had left India.

There are also suspicions about the manner in which the investigation was conducted and the tapping of mobile phones and the room telephones of the players. It is felt that the tactics used were of a paranoid nature, similar to those used by the South African secret police to trap a suspect at any cost.

As for the written transcripts, issued by the police, of what was supposed to have been said, Cronje is made to sound brusque and demanding. In normal conversation Cronje’s style is calm and confident with a hint of mischievous, and far from the brusque-sounding person as made out in the tapes.

Also questioned is his usage of the term “yeah” instead of the normal “ja” while other bits of conversation do not tie in with his voice presentation.

The name “Williams”, most likely Henry Williams, who was injured in the first game of the limited-overs slogs, was not involved in this particular game, alleged to be the third of the series and played at Faridabad and which South Africa went on to win.

There is a view that had the story broke on April 1, it would have been likened to a very poor April Fool’s joke.

The writer is a international cricket correspondent for CricInfo and senior cricket writer for Pretoria News.    

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