Greedy Cronje names Azhar
It’s all rubbish, I am innocent: Azhar
Who’s MK: Is it Mukesh or Mohan?
Match holiday boon for bosses
Mayapur puts sordid past behind

 
 
GREEDY CRONJE NAMES AZHAR 
 
 
AGENCIES
 
Cape Town, June 15 
Hansie Cronje today confessed to taking nearly $100,000 from gamblers since 1996, when he first accepted a bribe from a bookmaker introduced to him by Mohammed Azharuddin.

Testifying before the commission investigating corruption in the sport, the sacked South Afr-ican skipper said that his slide to ruin began with a meeting Azharuddin arranged with the bookie, known as MK, in a Kanpur hotel during the 1996 tour.

“On the evening of the third day of the third Test against India in Kanpur, I received a call from Mohammed Azharuddin,” Cronje told the commission of retired judge Edwin King. “He called me to a room in a hotel and introduced me to Mukesh Gupta, otherwise known as MK. Azharuddin then departed and left us alone in the room.”

Cronje said that “MK asked if we would give wickets away on the last day of the Test to ensure that we lost” in return for money. “He asked me to speak to other players and gave me approximately $30,000 in cash to do so.”

Cronje said he promised to speak to his team, but never did so. “We lost the Test match. I had effectively received money for do-ing nothing and I rationalised to myself that this was somehow acceptable because I had done nothing,” he added.

Cronje said the same bookmaker also offered him up to $250,000 to tank the final one-day match of the tour. This time, the sacked skipper said, he put the off-er to the team, but they rejected it.

Cronje, who has been offered indemnity if he tells all, revealed that Pakistan’s Salim Malik had appeared to know about a secret bribe offer and had asked him about it during a match in 1995.

In a prepared statement read to the commission, Cronje confirmed many of the allegations made against him but insisted he had never thrown a match. “South Africa has never thrown or fixed a match,” he said.

A repentant Cronje announced that his cricket career was over and he had been stupidly motivated by greed and lured by the temptation of easy money.

“I was not honest and apologise unreservedly,” Cronje said. “I have decided to sever my connections with the game and will not play cricket again at representative level.”

“To my wife, family and teammates in particular, I apologise,” he said, adding that he now feared for his life and that he had received threats.

Cronje, who had denied approaching his teammates, admitted he had spoken to players about fixing a one-day international against India in March this year.

The fallen hero said he had come under intense pressure from a South African bookie Hamid Cassiem and his friend Sanjay to throw the fifth one-day international in Nagpur. “I spoke to Herschelle Gibbs and Henry Williams as described by them in their testimony,” he said.

The two players had testified last week that Cronje offered them $15,000 each to play badly in the Nagpur game.

Cronje said he was first approached in January 1995 during the Nelson Mandela Cup when a man called John offered him a bribe of $10, 000 to throw a one-day match against Pakistan. He said he discussed the offer with Pat Symcox and rejected it.

Cronje said that when he came to the ground, Malik asked him whether he had spoken to John.

The sacked captain said “MK” put $50,000 into his private bank account in his hometown of Bloe-mfontein before the second Test of the 1996 Indian tour of South Afr-ica, but added: “None of these results were fixed or manipulated.”

The information which he had provided to Gupta included the selection of team for the first Test in Durban, daily forecasts and indication of when he would declare the innings during the second match in Cape Town.

Cronje also said Gupta was ready to give $300,000 for losing the third Test in Johannesburg, but he had refused.

The cricketer said his next contact with a bookie was during England’s tour this year when a man called Marlin Aronstam approached him with offers of donations to charities and gifts. He said Aronstam gave him 50,000 rand ($7,500) and a leather jacket after the final match in which the two sides agreed to forfeit an innings to get a result in the rain-hit Test.

Cronje ended his testimony with an appeal for measures to protect sportsmen from gamblers, saying they are “easy prey”.    


 
 
IT’S ALL RUBBISH, I AM INNOCENT: AZHAR 
 
 
AGENCIES
 
Mumbai, June 15 
Azharuddin dismissed as “rubbish” Hansie Cronje’s testimony linking him to the match-fixing scandal.

“It’s all rubbish. Cronje has no credibility left with him. I don’t know the person (bookie) he is talking about,” Azhar said over phone from Hyderabad. “I will be going to Delhi tomorrow and will tell the authorities wh-atever I want to say,” he added. Later, he did not comment when asked if he would depose before the CBI tomorrow.

Azharuddin maintained that he was clean. “I have played all my cricket honestly for more than 16 years. I do not know who Mukesh Gupta is. I rarely interacted with the South Africans during the 1996 series. I don’t know why Cronje said what he has said. I am looking at it as a disgraced cricketer’s desperate bid to deflect attention,” he said. “I am innocent and ready to face any inquiry,” Azhar said. He added that “it was a retaliati-on and a counter-attack,” plann-ed after careful thought by South African cricket bosses.

Sports minister S.S. Dhindsa said tonight Azhar should stay out of the team on his own till he is cleared of the “serious allegations”. “I am not saying this (the charge) is true,” but Azhar should withdraw on moral grounds. Dhindsa would not, however, ask the cricket board to take action against Azhar if he did not opt out.

“Like South Africans”, Indian players and officials should also come out with the truth, he said, suggesting that if they did, they should be shown leniency.    


 
 
WHO’S MK: IS IT MUKESH OR MOHAN? 
 
 
FROM OUR SPECIAL CORRESPONDENT
 
New Delhi, June 15 
Officially Delhi police and the CBI said they had never heard of Mukesh Gupta or ‘MK’, the bookie Hansie Cronje has mentioned, but sour-ces here disclosed that a senior cricketer’s cellphone kept under surveillance by an investigating agency based in Mumbai between August last year and April this year had thrown up the name. Gupta, a known bookie, operates in Delhi and Mumbai.

Others expressed doubt if Mu-kesh Gupta was the real name. They suggested ‘MK’ could also be the name of a Delhi-based bar-on among bookies, Mohan Khattar. Khattar was on the hitlist of Delhi police and his name was revealed by Rajesh Kalra during the initial stages of investigation. Kalra was arrested just before the Cronje scam broke.

Similarly, the other Indian bookie’s name mentioned by Cronje matches that of another bookie whose house was raided by Delhi police after Kalra’s interrogation. Cronje refers to a person called Sunil.

Khattar, Hans and Sunil are the three bookies Delhi police were trying to track down initially. Sunil alias Bittu, as identified by Delhi police at the time, used to stay at Lajpat Nagar.

All three are absconding. Kha-ttar may have escaped to the US. Sunil was described by the police as an errand boy for big sharks like Khattar. But the police said Cronje may not be referring to the Sunil named by Kalra.

There was tension between the Enforcement Directorate and Delhi police over the bookies’ disappearance. The ED suspects that the bookies were tipped off.    


 
 
MATCH HOLIDAY BOON FOR BOSSES 
 
 
BY LOKENDRA PRATAP SAHI
 
Calcutta, June 15 
The Mohammed Azharuddin component in Hansie Cronje’s testimony before the King Commission has be-en sensational, but hasn’t plunged Indian cricket into another crisis.

Of course, there is a distinct difference between all previous allegations (against Azhar) and this one — the charge, after all, hasn’t been levelled by the media — but with no commitments till mid-September (Toronto, against Pakistan), everyone gets a respite.

The cricket board brass. Selectors. Obviously, Azhar himself.

It’s possible the scenario would have been different had the allegation surfaced weeks/days before a tournament. “Yes, things could have reached a flashpoint. Yet, at the same time, the Kapil Dev example is there, too. Though Manoj Prabhakar named him, in person, just days before the Asia Cup, Kapil still went to Dhaka. So...” an influential board member said.

He acknowledged any formal discussion on Kapil’s continuan-ce as coach (on the eve of the Asia Cup), within the board, would probably have resulted in a split.

Any discussion on Azhar today is certain to see a heated division.

Thus far, the board’s stated position has been “everybody is innocent till proven guilty”, but, given the current mood, few will actually object if those under a cloud are taken off the national roster till investigations end.

At least one other Indian cricketer, whose name keeps cropping up vis-a-vis unethical dealings, would have heaved a sigh of relief at not being implicated by Cronje.

Incidentally, the board’s response to Cronje has been predictable: that a CBI inquiry is on and “it is hoped they will get to the bottom of the matter.”

Board secretary Jaywant Lele, exposed by Prabhakar during his clandestine video-taping act, has even asked “where’s the proof?” But his own claims of “doctoring” the tapes notwithstanding, everybody still remembers him bracketing Azhar, Ajay Jadeja and Kapil as “match-fixers” on record.

Though the CBI appears to have come up with absolutely nothing — it should, however, be worthwhile following the “John” lead, as Shane Warne and Mark Waugh interacted with the same bookie —- influential board members believe the inquiry won’t drag endlessly.

As one put it: “Otherwise, the impression of a possible cover-up will get around...”

Significantly, having supported the Union government’s move to institute a CBI inquiry, the board’s hands are tied.

“Any move from our side can be viewed as interference or, wor-se, undermining the governmen-t’s initiative. Such a perception will be disastrous... Therefore, we’ve got to wait till the CBI completes investigations,” insisted another board member.

Not that a stringent code of conduct can alone eliminate cricketers’ dealings with bookies —- despite the ICC’s code, Cronje has confessed to having interacted with them from 1995 —- but the day’s testimony should force the board to give priority to the India-specific code being talked about for months.

It was to have been in place before the Dhaka tournament, but got delayed inexplicably. The code must now have priority status.    


 
 
MAYAPUR PUTS SORDID PAST BEHIND 
 
 
FROM AMIT UKIL
 
Mayapur (Nadia), June 15 
The principal of the gurukul at Iskcon’s sprawling Mayapur complex acknowledges that young students were abused and tortured by some teachers and senior students, but that was before 1995.

Dasara Das, who has been associated with the gurukul for the past 16 years, first as student and now as principal, admits that such violations took place at the seat of learning started by Iskcon almost simultaneously with its temple complex in 1975.

“The biggest series of incidents (sexual abuse) took place in 1991 when the junior boys complained that the seniors were molesting them. Some teachers were involved too. At least five of the perpetrators were expelled from the order and blacklisted,” Das said.

Then, with similar stray instances being reported from other gurukuls spread across the world, the Iskcon governing body commission set up in 1996 a task force, called the international committee on child protection. This committee was to investigate and adjudicate the cases of abuse. “The 25-member commission was unanimous that such violations could not be accepted in the philosophy of our society,” Das said.

When the school started, boys of six years and above used to be admitted. Before 1991, the strength of the students, all boarders, was about 105. Then the scandals came to light and parents, mostly based in the US and the US, withdrew their children. The strength dwindled to 15. Over the past four years, faith in the way of life and standards at the school has been restored.

“We now have a strength of 45 boys from 9 to 18 years old and a waiting list of 80 candidates,” Das said. He was aware that a case might be initiated by former students of the gurukul. Six of his batchmates met him when he visited Florida last year and informed him that they were “dissatisfied” with the years they spent at the Mayapur gurukul. The abuse had left deep scars on their minds and was affecting their life even now, they had told Das.

He did not, however, expect the amount the former students would seek as damages to be so high ($400 million).

Asked what would happen if the case went in the victims’ favour, Das said it was for the commission to decide. “We do not have so much asset as to pay $400 million in compensation.”

The news of the lawsuit did not appear to have affected life at the Mayapur gurukula, about a kilometre away from the temple complex. Dhoti-clad, bare-torsoed boys were attending classes, some were cycling around the campus, playing the dhol.

“I like it very much here,” said Jeevapriya, 15, who has spent the last four years here. “My parents who are in England have seen this place.”

Local police said they have heard “something about a case being filed” but did not have any complaint against Iskcon.    

 

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