CBI rips cricket mask
Art of betting, mastered by MK
Captain bookies’ best bet
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New Delhi, Nov. 1: 
Armed with confessions from bookies, the CBI has blown the conspiracy of silence in the cricket world about match-fixing, nailing at least three former members of the Indian team.

Mohammed Azharuddin, Ajay Sharma and Manoj Prabhakar have admitted to taking money from bookmakers for fixing matches, offering information and putting them in touch with fellow cricketers. The CBI says in its 162-page report that Azharuddin alone has collected at least Rs 90 lakh, the former Indian captain confessing to fixing two matches.

Sharma and Prabhakar told the CBI that they accepted money from bookmakers, but not for match-fixing and that what they received was small change, in the range of a few thousand.

The CBI believes that Ajay Jadeja and Nayan Mongia, too, were in on match-fixing deals with Azhar, who has implicated them, but does not have confessions from the duo that could be cited as evidence. Jadeja has denied all charges thrown at him by the CBI during interrogation and is still proclaiming innocence.

Kapil Dev has come out clean in the report. There is no corroborative evidence to substantiate Prabhakar’s charge that the champion all-rounder had offered him Rs 25 lakh to underperform.

Sports minister S.S. Dhindsa released the report, saying that it had been referred to the law and home ministries for their opinion. After receiving their views, the sports ministry will decide if the CBI findings will hold up in court.

The agency itself has asked for the opinion of former Supreme Court judge M.K.Mukherjee and solicitor-general Harish Salve who believe Azhar and Sharma can be proceeded against under the Prevention of Corruption Act since both are government employees.

Nine foreign players have been named in the report, with at least three of them — Alec Stewart of England, Martin Crowe of New Zealand and Mark Waugh of Australia — allegedly accepting money from bookmaker Mukesh Gupta. Hansie Cronje is the fourth, but his guilt has already been established. The others are: Arjuna Ranatunga and Aravinda de Silva of Sri Lanka, Salim Malik of Pakistan, Brian Lara of West Indies and Dean Jones of Australia. In these cases, however, there is no suggestion that the players had accepted the cash offers. Gus Logie — also of West Indies — figures in the report, but he is said to have rejected the bribe.

“Cricket, as it is played at present, does not appear to be same game played by Sir Donald Bradman or Neville Cardus wrote about,” the CBI report says.

Nor will the CBI be the same agency maligned often for investigations that lead to nothing. Its crowning glory comes in the hour of cricket’s shame, a fact it recognises in the conclusion of the report where it compares the crisis as being more sinister than Bodyline.

Bookie Mukesh Gupta has led the CBI up the path of evidence, handing it details about money paid to the cricketers, the places where he met them and the conduits. The CBI says in the report that when it confronted cricketers with the confessions gathered from Gupta and several other bookmakers, the “conspiracy of silence” cracked.

When it did, suggestions of underworld links came tumbling out. Ali Irani, the former Indian team physiotherapist, told the CBI that Azhar had revealed to him that he had fixed matches for Anees Ibrahim, Karachi-based don Dawood Ibrahim’s brother. Azhar has denied any connections with Dawood, except to say that he had seen the Mumbai blast suspect a few times in Sharjah. The former Indian captain said Abu Salem, then the right-hand man of Dawood, had rung him a couple of times to fix matches but he had refused.

Agency sources said Mukesh Gupta is facing threats from the Dawood gang. The home ministry is holding an inquiry into possible underworld links of cricketers.

Dhindsa said the purpose of the CBI exercise was to prevent further collusion. “This report will bring to a halt, at least temporarily, any form of cooperation between bookies and cricketers.”

Aware that the report may not stand up to legal scrutiny, he desisted from demanding immediate action against the cricketers named and was downright fidgety when asked how foreign players could be dragged into the scandal without corroborative evidence. Mukesh Gupta told the agency that he paid $20,000 each to Martin Crowe and Mark Waugh.

Dhindsa said he would meet Indian cricket officials on Friday to discuss the report. All state-level organisations will be called on November 22.

BCCI president A.C. Muthiah said he was upset by the CBI comment that the board was aware of misdemeanours but kept quiet.

“It defies credulity to believe that the apex body was oblivious to such rampant match-fixing,” the CBI report says.    

New Delhi, Nov. 1: 
Mukesh Gupta’s story is much more than a mere rags-to-riches one.

Variously known as M.K. Gupta, MK and John, he shot into the headlines when Hansie Cronje named him before the King Commission earlier this year. Owner of a jewellery shop in Delhi’s South Extension, MK appears to have cooperated with the CBI and given them an insight into betting and fixing. MK has given details of how he trapped cricketers and how Manoj Prabhakar and Azharuddin became his leading clients. The CBI report has an entire chapter on bookies, punters and match-fixers and their dealings with cricketers. MK leads the pack.

Son of a former Uttar Pradesh government employee who worked in a mithai shop after retirement, Gupta gave up his job of a clerk with Syndicate Bank in 1989. He had already smelt money — real big-time money — in the cricket betting business.

MK perfected the art and science of betting. He gauged the possibility of making money in this trade soon after India won the World Cup in 1983. He started betting on a small scale and became a good student of the game, placing his money more intelligently than the others. He got in touch with other punters in Delhi and then established a network in Mumbai.

Cleverly, he invested his money in Ajay Sharma, then growing in stature as a budding cricketer of the Delhi team. It was through Sharma that MK went on to build a long-lasting friendship first with Prabhakar and then with Azhar. MK used his contacts in the cricketing fraternity, especially Prabhakar, to build a friendship with several overseas cricketers, many of whom he bribed. MK paid off demi-gods like Martin Crowe, Mark Waugh and Alec Stewart.

Sometime in the mid-nineties, his relations with Prabhakar soured as he gradually realised that the player was passing on wrong information. With the help of Sharma, MK then struck a lucrative friendship with Azhar. MK told the CBI that he gave up betting in May 1998 and concentrated on his jewellery business.

Mumbai-based Anil Steel alias Anil Nagada started cricket betting in 1992 and was close not just to MK, but also to Prabhakar and Azhar. Steel admitted to the CBI that on behalf of MK, he had paid Rs 20 to 25 lakh to Dr Ali Irani, the former physio. Irani acted as conduit for Azhar.

Steel is also famous for the rapport he shared with Asif Iqbal. The former Pakistan skipper has long been providing Steel information on pitch, weather and probable results of matches across the world. He had also met Ajay Jadeja in MK’s hotel room in 1996.

Anand Sagar Saxena alias Anand alias Chikna was very close to MK and, through him, to Prabhakar. Sagar has maintained books for MK and specialised in paying off punters. In the mid-nineties, however, he fell out with MK but continued to be in touch with Prabhakar who often stayed in his hotel in Mussoorie.

Sanjiv Kohli alias Tipu Kohli runs a chain of restaurants in Delhi called Moti Mahal. He has been close to bookies like Hans and Deepak of Delhi and with Shobhan Mehta of Mumbai. He, too, knows Prabhakar. Kohli says he was in touch with the former all-rounder during England’s visit in 1993 and in some subsequent series as well.

Kohli says he paid Prabhakar around Rs 1 lakh to provide information on matches in which he played. The player had asked him for money when he contested the polls. Kohli has also been close to Rattan Mehta, another Delhi-based match-fixer.

The list is huge. Jai Bhagwan Gupta belongs to the family of Gyan Gupta and it appears that the entire Gupta clan, including members like Ajay, Ameesh and Gyan, were in touch with many cricketers, including Azhar, whom they paid from time to time.    

New Delhi, Nov. 1: 
Azharuddin may have betrayed his country, but never the match-fixers. Unlike Manoj Prabhakar, who often let down the nation as well as the men who were paying him off.

Bookie kingpin Mukesh Gupta alias MK told as much to the CBI during his interrogation which gave the bureau a great deal of insight into the murky world of fixers and punters.

Azhar’s “loyalty” made him the punters’ most-trusted client. As the CBI says: “It is clear that Azharuddin contributed substantially towards the expanding bookie-player nexus in Indian cricket. The enquiry has disclosed that he received large sums of money from the betting syndicates to fix matches. There is also evidence which discloses that he roped in other players also to fix matches which resulted in this malaise making further inroads into Indian cricket.”

MK’s revelations coupled with supporting evidence from Ajay Sharma has led the CBI to conclude that “Azharuddin was paid at least Rs 50 lakh initially by MK to fix matches”.

The bookie told the investigating agency that Azhar had specifically agreed to “do” some matches during the Titan Cup in 1996. But the final, which India won defeating South Africa, did not turn out as arranged with Azhar.

According to MK, after the Titan Cup final, he, along with Ajay Sharma, visited Hyderabad and asked Azhar to make up for the “losses” suffered by him. Azhar agreed.

MK goes on to say that Azhar then gave him information about two Tests at Ahmedabad and Calcutta during the 1996 series against South Africa which helped him partially recover his losses.

This is what distinguishes Azhar from other players.

As MK points out elsewhere, Prabhakar did not go by the adage that there should be honesty among thieves. The cricketer had misinformed him about the probable outcome of matches sometime in the mid-nineties.

During his interrogation, Azhar has accepted receiving money from MK to fix some matches. Azhar has said he “did” only two matches for MK — the Titan Cup match in 1996 at Rajkot and “some” match during the Pepsi Asia Cup in Sri Lanka in 1997.

This “admission” of Azhar, according to the CBI, that he did only two matches for MK during this period does not tally with the amount of money he received from the bookie.

MK has also said that during the 1997 Sahara Cup in Toronto, Sangeeta Bijlani used to provide him “information” over cellphone which, he told the CBI, usually turned out to be wrong.

Not just MK, Azhar was also close to other bookies like Ajay Gupta. Azhar initially accepted that he met Ajay Gupta for help in getting a petrol outlet allotted at Bangalore, but later admitted that the punter had approached him to fix some matches. Ajay Sharma told the CBI that on Azhar’s behalf, he had collected Rs 15 lakh from Ajay Gupta and deposited the money in the locker of the former captain at Delhi’s Taj Palace hotel.

Azhar also said during his questioning that underworld don Abu Salem had called him up a couple of times to fix matches, but he had refused.

Ali Irani, the former physio, said Azhar had told him once that he was “doing” matches for Anees Ibrahim, brother of Dawood and, hence, he cannot “do with anyone else”.

Prabhakar, who blew the whistle, may have tried to hoodwink everyone by insisting he was clean. But the CBI believes that Prabhakar, both during his playing days and even after retirement, had “linkages with a number of bookies/punters”.

There is also evidence that he underperformed and passed on information and introduced other players to betting syndicates.    



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