S. Africa rubbishes Delhi claim
Police zero in on bookie trio
Cancel cloud on benefit matches
Quit cry after UP govt defeat
In BJP Today, Advani can’t eclipse Atal
Calcutta weather

 
 
S. AFRICA RUBBISHES DELHI CLAIM 
 
 
FROM OUR SPECIAL CORRESPONDENT
 
New Delhi, April 10 
Debunking India’s claims that it had not kept Pretoria in the dark on the match-fixing row, South Africa’s high commissioner Maite Nkoane-Mashabane said her meeting with foreign ministry officials today was the first communication between the two countries.

Nkoane-Mashabane, who met joint secretary (Africas) Pawan Varma this afternoon, sought access to the tapes on which the case is based and said India had assured her that they would be handed over. Delhi, however, did not specify when it would give the tapes.

An official spokesperson said after the 45-minute meeting that both sides had reiterated their close ties and agreed to “remain in touch in the coming days”.

South Africa has demanded a copy of the tapes of the purported conversation between Hansie Cronje and bookie Sanjeev Chawla to enable authorities in the country to carry out their own inquiries. Delhi police had earlier said they would pass on the tapes once their investigations were over.

The South African government is standing by Cronje and four of his teammates — Herschelle Gibbs, Nicky Boje, Pieter Strydom and Henry Williams — accused of tanking last month’s one-dayers against India. “Our players are innocent until proven guilty,” Nkoane-Mashabane said.

The high commissioner’s assertion that Pretoria had no idea of the charges contradicts foreign secretary Lalit Mansingh’s statement yesterday that the allegation was “simply not true”.

Mansingh’s claim was endorsed by his boss Jaswant Singh, who told correspondents in Cartagena that India had kept the South Africa informed of the developments.

Shortly after the high commissioner’s declaration, the foreign ministry issued a statement repeating that it had informed the South African government of the conspiracy, fraud and cheating charges levelled against Cronje and his colleagues “prior to the case being made public”.

“Delhi police have registered a case of criminal conspiracy, fraud and cheating against certain individuals of Indian nationality and Cronje, on the basis of evidence which they believe they will be able to sustain in a court of law. The law will take its own course,” the statement said.

“In conformity with the close and cordial relations we have with South Africa, we had informed the South African side prior to the case being made public. We will remain, as required, in touch with the South African government in the coming days.”

But India refused to clarify what it meant by “prior”. According to some sources, the government had informed South Africa as soon as the tapes had revealed their “explosive content”. One source even said the South Africans were passed on the information last weekend. But the police news conference where the disclosure was made was held on Friday.

The claims and counter-claims by the two countries have triggered speculation that somebody is lying to cover a possible goof-up. India may have informed Pretoria, but at a later date. On the other hand, South Africa may have been in possession of the information in advance, but had not taken it seriously. With the controversy threatening to snowball into a diplomatic row, the government in Pretoria has started making noises.

India’s high commissioner in Pretoria, Harsh Bhasin, was summoned by the South African government and asked for the tapes. Bhasin apparently passed over the request to Delhi.

The police here are keen to present a watertight case as they will first have to approach courts in South Africa for permission if they want action against the cricketers. Since Delhi does not have any extradition treaty with Pretoria, the police would have to fight a legal battle against the players in South Africa.    


 
 
POLICE ZERO IN ON BOOKIE TRIO 
 
 
OUR BUREAU
 
April 10 
The match-fixing trail today snaked from the high profile to a shadowy and uncharted territory with the police launching a manhunt for a bookie trio and Mumbai emerging as the “likely nucleus” of the racket.

Based on leads given by the arrested bookie, Rajesh Kalra, Delhi police have spread the dragnet for Mohan Khattar, Sunil alias Bittu and Hans. Khattar and Bittu are based in Lajpat Nagar, while Hans is from Model Town in north-west Delhi.

The police said all three are absconding. The respective police stations have been asked to look for them and pick them up.

The police added another twist to the scandal, claiming South African captain Hansie Cronje and absconding businessman Sanjeev Chawla stayed in the same hotel in Kochi a day before the one-dayer there and made calls to a common number in South Africa. This has fuelled speculation that a South African middleman could have been involved.

Other information provided by Kalra has made the police suspect that Kishen Kumar, brother of murdered music baron Gulshan Kumar, could have contributed Rs 50 lakh to raise funds for the South African cricketers allegedly involved in fixing the matches.

But Kumar, now in a hospital, could not be questioned today, three days after the police announced their intention to do so. The police are finding it difficult to exert pressure as his medical records revealed that he was a cardiac patient.

The police are also following up Kalra’s claim that Kumar cleared the bill for Chawla’s stay in a Mumbai hotel during the Test between South Africa and India.

Chawla — who reportedly talked to Cronje on behalf of the fixers — had followed the South African captain and his men from one match venue to another and left for London only after the Faridabad one-dayer, Kalra said.

Of the three wanted Delhi-based bookies, Khattar is described as a big operator. He owns a sprawling bungalow in Lajpat Nagar. Bittu is a small-time bookie, used more as an errand boy by the likes of Khattar.

Delhi police are not sure of Hans’ status in the betting world, though Kalra said he was a big fish and could provide several leads on countrywide betting operations.

The Enforcement Directorate has begun to piece together the jigsaw of the probable hawala route. This evening, the godowns owned by Gagan and Rajesh Chawla, both brothers of Sanjeev, were raided at Bhogal in east Delhi.

In Mumbai, police sources said an actor used to arrange advance funds from two bookies in the city and route them to several offshore bank accounts in London and the Channel Islands. Officers carrying out independent investigations said the entire “betting and match-fixing chain” was in Mumbai.

A Delhi police team arrived in Bangalore last night. However, it is not working jointly with the local police.

The Delhi team reportedly met an official of the Karnataka cricket association and a former cricketer. It also visited Commercial Street in search of some businessmen who are suspected to be involved in the racket.    


 
 
CANCEL CLOUD ON BENEFIT MATCHES 
 
 
FROM TREVOR CHESTERFIELD
 
Durban, April 10 
A planned series of benefit matches in India involving teams led by Hansie Cronje and Sachin Tendulkar in late April is expected to be abandoned as the fallout over the match-fixing charges became entrenched at government level last night.

While Cronje strongly denied Delhi police’s allegations, the United Cricket Board (UCB) stood firmly behind the man who has led South Africa since November 1994.

UCB managing director Ali Bacher last night told a media conference that the South African government and the UCB viewed the allegations “in a most serious light” and discussions at the government level would continue. “The issues at stake are the lack of protocol used on this most serious issue and the bugging of phones used by the South African team while in India,” Bacher told the conference.

“These are very serious issues, but let me reaffirm that the UCB believes in the integrity and honesty of our national captain,” said Bacher who was flanked by Cronje and Nicky Boje, one of the other four players Delhi police have attempted to implicate.

The players were at Kingsmead last night where the South African side had a practice match against a South African Invitation XI as a warm-up for the first of three games against the World Cup champions who arrived yesterday.

Cronje, looking quite relaxed, came out strongly in his denial of the allegations.

“I want to make it 100 per cent clear that I deny ever receiving any sum of money during the one-day international series in India,” Cronje said. “I want to also make it absolutely clear I have never spoken to any member of the team about throwing a game.Cronje told the large gathering of South African and foreign media in the Kingsmead presidential lounge. Percy Sonn, acting president of the UCB, who is now deputy national director of the South African anti-crime unit known as the Scorpions, pointed out that Indian police was the agency of the Indian government.

“Should they do anything which affects our nationals or national assets, which our national team is, then obviously it is something for our government to handle and not us (the UCB),” Sonn said.

“It is not the Indian (cricket) board, who approached us so it is not a cricket-to-cricket matter. This is a government matter,” Sonn said.

“What is affected are the individual player rights: questions of defamation, questions of privacy,” he said.

Cronje did admit that at a team meeting during the 1996-97 tour when the players were involved in a benefit match the players were offered US $250,000 but they “laughed it off”.

The South African captain said he had to use another mobile phone in India as his own was damaged, having been dropped. This meant he had to borrow one from the team’s manager, Goolam Rajah.

“I did take mine over but did not use it at all,” said Cronje.

The writer is international cricket correspondent with CricInfo    


 
 
QUIT CRY AFTER UP GOVT DEFEAT 
 
 
FROM OUR CORRESPONDENT
 
Lucknow, April 10 
Outwitted and outnumbered by the Opposition, the BJP-led government in Uttar Pradesh today suffered a humiliating defeat in the Assembly on the trade tax Bill.

Buoyed by the victory, the Opposition has demanded the resignation of the R.P. Gupta dispensation by tomorrow morning and staked claim to form the government. The BJP has dismissed the demand, saying the legislation was not a money Bill.

The BJP’s complacency in trying to introduce the Trade Tax Amendment Bill without carrying out a headcount backfired as the alert Opposition struck when the enemy was at its weakest. The government, which could muster only 55 votes, fell short by 28.

The ruling party, torn by internal strife and led by a “forgetful and disinterested chief minister”, walked into the Opposition trap, meticulously planned and clinically executed.

The defeat has rattled the BJP high command as it has exposed the fragility of the coalition and sparked questions on the allies’ intention. Though aware that the government was to place the legislation, most Loktantrik Congress MLAs were absent.

“We have the support of 25 MLAs of the ruling party,” said a gleeful Opposition leader Dhani Ram Verma.

The Opposition swung into action and a group of around 90 legislators marched to Raj Bhavan to stake claim to form a new government. “The BJP has to go now,” thundered Verma.

“Governor Suraj Bhan has been intimated of our strength and we have the requisite strength to form the next government,” he added.

Verma claimed that the Opposition had even decided on who the next chief minister would be. But he refused to divulge the name, saying: “Let the Governor first dissolve the House and we will take the new chief minister to him. We can prove our majority in 24 hours and we have told the Governor that.”

Though Bhan has asked for some time to look into the demand, the Opposition has set a deadline of 11 am tomorrow for the Governor to dismiss the government.

Squirming in embarrassment, the BJP sought to debunk the Opposition demand by claiming the legislation was not a money Bill. “The Opposition does not know what it is doing,” said Speaker Kesari Nath Tripathi. “It is not a money Bill but an ancillary legislation as it seeks to give additional powers to the trade tax authorities. It does not seek to levy new taxes, increase or decrease taxes or change anything even remotely involved in a money Bill. It is clear in Article 199 of the Constitution that it is not a money Bill.”

Incidentally, the Opposition is quoting the same article to bolster its case. “It is clear in Article 199 that the legislation falls in the category of a money Bill,” Verma said.

The Opposition leader pointed to the resignation of Chandrabhan Gupta in 1967 when a money Bill introduced by his government was defeated in the House.    


 
 
IN BJP TODAY, ADVANI CAN’T ECLIPSE ATAL 
 
 
FROM OUR SPECIAL CORRESPONDENT
 
New Delhi, April 10 
BJP president Kushabhau Thakre has sought an “explanation” from Prafulla Goradia, editor of the fortnightly in-house party magazine, BJP Today, for the “over-projection” of L.K. Advani in its special 20th anniversary issue.

The special issue was widely written about in the media for its unabashed eulogy of the home minister and its glaring silence on Prime Minister Atal Behari Vajpayee.

BJP sources said an embarrassed leadership did not react to the media build-up, hoping that the controversy would peter out on its own.

But Goradia added fuel to the debate when, in an interview to a newsmagazine, he held Vajpayee responsible for the BJP’s all-time low performance in the 1984 Lok Sabha polls in an attempt to justify the overwhelming importance given to Advani.

The editor was quoted as stressing that a message had been sought from the Prime Minister for the special issue for which two pages were slotted and a photograph of Vajpayee as the party chief in 1980 fished out.

Goradia told the magazine: “We thought Atalji, as the Prime Minister, might not speak on the party’s evolution and its ideology. So we banked on Advaniji, who had taken the party to new heights.” And then came the parting shot: “After all, during Vajpayee’s tenure as the party president, the BJP had fared poorly in the elections.”

According to insiders, the BJP leadership took immediate note of Goradia’s dig at Vajpayee, once the magazine hit the stands on Sunday. An “embarrassed” Advani, sources claimed, conveyed his “disapproval” to Thakre who got in touch with Goradia and asked him for an “explanation”. However, sources close to Goradia denied this.

But asked if Goradia could be replaced as the editor, BJP sources said: “Such a step would add more grist to the rumour mills which thrive on the so-called Vajpayee-Advani differences.” Nor is the party likely to insert a “clarification” or an “explanation” to dispel the controversy.

“An explanation for what?,” sources close to Goradia shot back when questioned on the controversy.

“If there is a factual mistake or a glaring lapse, it is understandable. After all, an earlier issue of the same magazine with which he was not associated had ten or 12 pages on Vajpayee and nobody asked then if the BJP did not have another leader,” they pointed out.    


 
 
CALCUTTA WEATHER 
 
 
 
 
Temperature: Maximum: 38.4°C (+2) Minimum: 27.6°C (+4) RAINFALL: Nil Relative humidity: Maximum: 89%, Minimum: 22% Today: Partly cloudy sky. Slight fall in maximum temperature. Maximum temperature likely to be around 37°C. Sunset: 5.51 pm Sunrise: 5.23 am    
 

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