Played in Kochi, paid in Gujarat - THE FACES BEHIND THE SURPRISE IPL DEAL

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By SAMYABRATA RAY GOSWAMI WITH INPUTS FROM BASANT RAWAT
  • Published 23.03.10
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Mumbai, March 22: Kem chho, Kochi?

The surprise entrant to the Indian Premier League could soon pick up a smattering of Gujarati following the stunning auction yesterday in which an unknown consortium called Rendezvous Sports World Ltd (RSWL) picked up the Kochi franchise for a staggering $333.33 million (Rs 1,500 crore).

Pune was taken by the Sahara group for $370 million (Rs 1,665 crore). Sahara boss Subroto Roy was today quoted by PTI as saying he would like Sachin Tendulkar, currently skipper of the Mukesh Ambani-owned Mumbai Indians, to lead his side and have Amitabh Bachchan, a close friend of Mukesh’s estranged brother Anil Ambani, to promote the brand.

Gujarat may have lost out on its IPL dream with Ahmedabad failing to make the cut, but the RSWL consortium comprising a bunch of Gujarati businessmen — and a Kerala scion for local flavour — is keeping the flame of the famed dhanda alive in the backwaters of Kerala.

IPL insiders said this group of Gujarati businessmen, through their various connections of kinship and friendship, had picked up 50 per cent in the Kochi team.

The sole representative from Kerala is the Elite group of Vivek Venugopal, a well-known company based in Thrissur with interests ranging from packaged food to construction.

Venugopal, sources said,

brings to the team local flavour and acceptability given that the other owners are not directly connected with the state.

Mumbai-based Shailendra Gaikwad, who owns the Rendezvous chain of hotels, is another promoter who was present at the auction yesterday in Chennai.

IPL commissioner Lalit Modi, however, did not mention Shailendra in his tweet yesterday detailing the partners in the consortium, though they were together at the post-auction news conference. But Modi did mention a Ravi and a Sanjay Gaikwad.

While the identity of Ravi could not be established, Sanjay Gaikwad is the managing director of UFO Moviez, the world’s largest digital satellite cinema network. UFO is owned by the Valuable Group, which has the IPL franchise for screening the matches at all multiplexes, restaurants and clubs.

The others in the consortium are a motley gang of high net worth Gujarati businessmen, loosely related to each other and with strong business interests.

Prime among them is the Anchor group, manufacturers of electrical switches and accessories, owned by the Shah family, and Rosy Blue, one of the major diamond trading companies in the world, promoted by a bunch of Gujarati merchants who have close relations with the Anchor group owners.

Whispers of the Middle East link to the Kochi deal continued today following speculation that the Abu Dhabi-based owners of the English football club Manchester

City were behind the curiously stitched-together consortium.

Rosy Blue, which has offices in Antwerp and Mumbai, is incidentally a sponsor of the UAE (United Arab Emirates) Billiards and Snooker Association, which counts among its patrons the ruling family of Dubai.

Shashi Tharoor, the junior external affairs minister, who yesterday said he had given the RSWL his “blessings” while denying involvement in the bid, had been chairman of the Dubai-based Afras Ventures after resigning from the UN three years ago.

Among the other partners in the RSWL is Mukesh Patel, who owns a ship-breaking company, called Shri Ram Vessels, in Gujarat’s Alang.

Shri Ram Vessels, in turn, holds a 49.5 per cent stake in a Mumbai realty group called Parinee Developers, among whose other partners are Gujarati businessmen Vipul Shah and Dhaval Shah.

Patel acknowledged that he had, through Parinee Developers, picked up a 10 per cent stake in the RSWL, but added that it was the Gujarat connection that had made him enter the elite IPL club.

“I’m just a businessman and have absolutely no idea about the game of cricket. It is just business for me,” Patel told The Telegraph.

Patel said he had been asked to join the consortium by his friend “Mehulbhai” — Mehul Shah of Anchor — who, he claimed, owned 35 per cent in the consortium.

“Mehul coaxed me to join the consortium along with my business partner Vipul Shah,” Patel said.

Sources said Mehul Shah’s family was associated with Shri Ram Vessels as well. “It is well known in our trade circles that Anchor is the muscle behind Parinee through Shri Ram Vessels,” said a top realty broker in Mumbai.

Patel rebutted the claim. Mehul Shah could not be reached for comment in spite of several calls.

“Parinee is a closely held company which has just got a contract from the Mumbai Metropolitan Region Development Authority to build a 73-floor high-rise in the upscale Bandra-Kurla Complex,” said the realty industry source.

Not much is known about Film Waves, a company that too is part of the consortium. IPL insiders said the company would start investing in Indian cinema shortly.