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Rs 500 crore off 100 overs

Mumbai, Feb. 9: Sleuths from the world cricket body will arrive this month to probe the Marlon Samuels scandal, which has swivelled the spotlight on a Rs 500-crore-a-day betting racket run by mafia bosses from foreign soil.

The International Cricket Council’s Anti-Corruption and Security Unit is likely to visit Nagpur on or before February 19 to collect information about the phone conversation between the West Indies all-rounder and alleged bookie Mukesh Kochchar.

Whatever they find can only be the tip of the iceberg, going by the conclusions of a bigger probe by the CBI into the Hansie Cronje controversy seven years ago.

CBI officials and Mumbai police say that syndicates led by Dawood Ibrahim and Chhota Rajan control the betting business, which transacts deals worth between Rs 350 crore and Rs 500 crore over a single one-day match in India.

“The business peaks during tournaments like triangulars and World Cups,” said a senior Mumbai officer who had in the past briefed the ICC about the Indian betting scene.

“It’s perhaps the biggest organised racket (in India). Internet connectivity and laptops have made it easier for bookies to accept bets virtually anywhere.”

Mumbai remains the capital of the betting empire, with Thane, Navi Mumbai, Ahmedabad, Indore, Calcutta, New Delhi and Surat being the other major hubs.

The CBI report on the Cronje affair had warned that the racket must be tackled fast. “The underworld mafia can be expected to take overall control if not checked immediately,” it said.

“It does appear that… small-time wagering has now been replaced by a syndicate (which) has started interfering with the purity of the sport.”

“Yet Mumbai police look the other way while bookies like Anil Steel, Shobhan Mehta alias Shobhan Kalachowkie, Laxmi Thana, Samrat, Bharat Mulund and Kanti Malad continue to operate with impunity in and around the city,” a CBI source said.

Mehta was arrested twice in 2005, in Mumbai and Ahmedabad, but got bail each time. Earlier, he had been caught with 22 other bookies in February 2003. All were let off after allegedly paying a senior officer Rs 50 lakh.

Nagpur police chief S.P.S. Yadav has promised “all co-operation” to the ICC anti-corruption sleuths. The team may question the staff of Hotel Pride where Samuels and his team had checked in.

It will hand a report to the ICC, which would recommend the next course of action and forward the report to the West Indies cricket board, which today said it was launching its own probe.

The anti-corruption unit’s representative in India, N.S. Virk, refused to comment on the controversy.

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