Diplomatic sparks fly
Arrested bookie leads police to trail of Indian cr
Probe heads out of capital
Pak give-and-take offer for talks

New Delhi, April 9 
Allegations of match-fixing against Hansie Cronje and four teammates were snowballing into a diplomatic confrontation between India and South Africa, even though New Delhi claimed to have kept Pretoria informed.

“It is not correct,” foreign secretary Lalit Mansingh said about South Africa’s complaint that it had been kept in the dark. The Indian government had informed its South African counterpart soon after the phone-tap revealed the explosive potential of the case.

As South Africa demanded copies of the tapes of purported conversations between Cronje and an Indian bookie, the South African captain came out in public with a denial.

Flanked by Nicky Boje and Herschelle Gibbs, also named in the bribery allegation, Cronje said: “I am a committed player for South Africa and will not be involved in something like match-fixing.”

“I have no idea (why the police had implicated him). During the tour, a lot of people walked into the hotels asking for interviews,” he added.

South Africa’s top cricket administrator Ali Bacher waded into the controversy, saying: “We want an answer for why the players’ cellphones were tapped.” Bacher said he had asked deputy foreign minister Aziz Pahad to take up the issue with India.

Pahad has already announced he is asking for copies of the tapes so that authenticity could be checked. “We want to conduct our own investigations. If there is any substance in the allegations, we will take the necessary steps,” Pahad said.

The minister was earlier quoted as saying that South Africa’s ambassador Maite Nkoane-Ramashada had listened to the tapes and was convinced that the accent was not South African.

Debunking the South African claim, Delhi police, which made the match-fixing allegation on Friday, fired back, saying it had not released the tapes to anyone so far.

“We have only released transcripts. The tapes have been sealed,” the police said, implying that the high commissioner had passed judgment after listening to the conversation simulated by TV channels on the basis of transcripts.

Mansingh declined comment on whether South Africa has officially sought copies of the tapes. He was also tightlipped on whether Indian high commissioner in Pretoria Harsh Bhasin had been summoned by the South African government to seek an official explanation for bugging the phones of their cricketers.

Bhasin, however, told PTI in Johannesburg that he had not been contacted by the South African government on the match-fixing allegations at all.

Senior Delhi police officials also disclosed that Pretoria was informed within days of the tapes suggesting a “big crime was on”.

“Probably, they (the South Africans) had not realised that the media exposure would have such repercussion,” the police, who are not prepared to pass on copies of the tapes at this stage of the investigation, said.

In response to doubts about voice authenticity, the police say they do not believe it was not Cronje, but someone else who was doing the talking.

Asked if this could in any way be a conspiracy to tarnish Cronje and his fellow-cricketers’ image, the police insisted that they did not think so. However, they did not provide a reason for ruling out this possibility.    

Calcutta, April 9 
Bookie Rajesh Kalra, arrested in connection with match-fixing allegations, has “generally named” three current Indian cricketers during interrogation by Delhi police.

Sources told The Telegraph Kalra hasn’t implicated the trio in the recent India versus South Africa one-day series, but said he and his tribe have, in the past, “been in touch with them”.

In normal circumstances, an investigation would straightaway have been launched but, today, Delhi police are more concerned about presenting a watertight case on the Hansie Cronje front. So, the sensational revelation notwithstanding, it has been put on the back-burner.

“With the South Africans involving their government, the Cronje case has become much too hot. At the moment, then, the priority is to make that (case) foolproof and then move to other disclosures,” the sources pointed out.

In any case, Kalra hasn’t involved the trio in the five-match series specifically being investigated. Had it been so, the story would have been very different.

Sources added Kalra’s arrest has opened more than just the proverbial Pandora’s Box.

“If the investigation is carried to its logical end — as it should be — absolutely nobody can predict what all will be thrown up...”

The sources also believe the time is “ripe” for the Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) to step in.

“That will eliminate the likelihood of vested interests seeking to influence investigation... Even the public, for instance, is already aware who are on the beat... That isn’t how sensitive investigations should be handled. Delhi police, after all, are an ‘open’ organisation, the CBI isn’t.”

Meanwhile, it is understood it’s only a matter of time before the London-based “kingpin,” Sanjeev Chawla, is “brought to book.”

Sources, however, acknowledge those on the beat are “worried” the tapes indicting Cronje may not pass muster in court. A voice-match, therefore, is an absolute must.

Even so, there’s no guarantee that alone will be taken as sufficient evidence.

Delhi police’s crime branch took the state home secretary’s permission to tap Cronje’s cellphone. “Protocol was fully followed,” the sources said.

There is talk that Cronje’s cellphone was “tapped” in Sharjah and Dubai, too, during the recent tri-series. South Africa lost a close final, to Pakistan.    

New Delhi, April 9 
The probe into the cricket match-fixing scandal spiralled out of the capital today as investigators claimed that they hope to uncover a long chain of 200 transactions involving several people, including politicians.

Police teams have fanned out from Delhi to Mumbai, Bangalore and Kochi, all three venues of either Test or one-day matches between India and South Africa.

Kishen Kumar, brother of slain music baron Gulshan Kumar, was “briefly interrogated” at an intensive care unit of a hospital on the eastern outskirts of the capital. He was admitted there with a cardiac complaint.

PTI quoted a police officer as saying Kumar has been served a notice asking him to appear before the crime branch tomorrow for being questioned.

“All we can say at this stage is that Kumar is an intrinsic part of the scheme and it was on his initiative that the money demanded was raised,” an officer said.

Delhi police, under mounting pressure to come up with conclusive proof, received a breather as the metropolitan magistrate extended the arrest of Rajesh Kalra by four more days.

The anti-extortion cell of Delhi police, which is handling the probe, said four days would be enough to extract all information from the Greater Kailash businessman. Kalra has already given them a number of leads, the police claimed.

The Enforcement Directorate, which will look into the hawala route of the money transfer, joined the investigation today. It filed an application before the magistrate, asking for two days’ remand of Kalra, once the police are through with him.

Sources in the police claimed that Kalra has provided details of how he had come to know Sanjeev Chawla, who allegedly talked to Cronje on behalf of the fixers.

Kalra has revealed that Chawla, who owns a garment shop on Oxford Street in London, had known the South African captain for some time.

The sources said voice-match test of tapes of alleged conversation between Cronje and Chawla would be done within the next 48 hours.

“We had brought over tapes from post-match conversations with captains and we know for certain that no one else but Hansie did the talking,” an officer said.

Pradeep Shrivastava, deputy commissioner (crime), said the CBI’s help would be sought to get in touch with Interpol and track down Chawla.    

Cartagena, April 9 
Pakistan today expressed hope of resuming dialogue with India in the coming months despite Delhi’s rejection of Islamabad’s talks offer.

Pakistan came up with a formula to help create the right atmosphere for the nuclear twins to return to the negotiating table. While Pakistan would try to rein in the militant groups from carrying out anti-Indian propaganda and suspend violence, Islamabad expected Delhi to start the dialogue with Kashmiri leaders, Pakistani foreign minister Abdul Sattar said.

“We can advocate moderation. But the political process also needs to start. Both should be in tandem,” Sattar said. He admitted there was a need for moderation and that there was a growing recognition of it all around.

“We can’t take no for an answer. It is too dangerous for tension to build up in South Asia. We need to renew contacts,” Sattar said at the convention centre here, the venue of the Nam foreign ministers’ meet. In between bilateral meetings on the sidelines of Nam, the Pakistani foreign minister looked a little more cheerful than the day before when he had said Islamabad will not force the pace of talks after Delhi’s rejection of its offer.

One reason for the swing in the mood could be the exchange of pleasantries during the day with his Indian counterpart Jaswant Singh, who had ignored him during yesterday’s two-and-a-half hour flight from Miami to Cartagena. This afternoon, however, Singh not only shook hands with him but also introduced a few of his aides to Sattar.

“We have to re-build bridges,” Sattar said, trying to sound his reasonable best. “We need to reconstruct our contacts and focus on issues that divide us,” he added.

Sattar gave the impression that though Pakistan may be down at the moment, it is not out. His confidence seems to stem from Pervez Musharraf’s ability to provide good governance and improve the Pakistani economy in the next few months.

“In a couple of months, people will make a good assessment of the direction Pakistan is taking,” he said. He claimed that the military regime will be able to improve the country’s economy, improve governance and yield positive results soon.

Sattar argued that Pakistani exports have increased by 15 per cent and its credit rating has already gone up, although marginally. Moreover, the integrity of Musharraf’s hand-picked Cabinet members is beyond doubt. “There is not a single corruption charge against any of them,” he said.

Sattar felt that the Musharraf regime will be able to withstand pressure to restore democracy if it manages to improve both the economy and the governance.

“Delhi will have to review its calculation that Pakistan can be isolated,” Sattar said. The improved situation will have world leaders nudging India more and more towards the negotiating table with Pakistan, he indicated.

Sattar admitted that the rise in militancy has been a concern ever since the withdrawal of the Soviet troops from Afghanistan. He said in the short time since it came to power, the military rulers have tried to improve the law and order situation in Pakistan. There has been a ban on display of arms and the process of “de-weaponisation” is already on. The situation in violence-prone Karachi has already improved, he added.

On what the military regime plans to do on India’s assertion that cross-border terrorism and hostile propaganda against it from Pakistan needed to stop before the dialogue between the two sides could resume, Sattar said some steps have already been taken. He pointed out that Azhar Masood, one of the Kashmiri militants released by India in exchange for the hijack hostages, has already been reined in. “Pakistani officials told him that his anti-India propaganda is not helping anybody. Masood seems to have realised this and has subsequently stopped making anti-Indian speeches.”

The Pakistani foreign minister, however, felt that on its part India needed to reciprocate the gesture by opening the “political route” with the Kashmiri leaders. Referring to the recent gunning down of some people in Anantnag by Indian security forces, he said India cannot blame the Mujahideen for such incidents.

Sattar argued that once India started the dialogue process with the Kashmiri leaders, Pakistan can try to convince the militants operating from its base to suspend violence and other hostile activities against Delhi to give peace a chance.    

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