The telephone trail

Published : Apr 29, 2000 00:00 IST


ALLEGATIONS of corruption of various sorts have rocked the cricketing world from time to time, but it was left to the Delhi Police to make the first concrete breakthrough in such a case. That came in the form of solid evidence, painstakingly collected by Inspector Ishwar Singh of the Crime Branch, the inspector having stumbled upon an incriminating conversation between London-based Indian businessman Sanjeev Chawla and South African skipper Hansie Cronje while investigating extortion calls received by t op businessmen. Ishwar Singh also stumbled upon links that led him to Krishan Kumar, film actor and brother of slain music cassette mughal Gulshan Kumar. The links also led him to a Delhi bookie, Rajesh Kalra.

Wire-tapping of the telephones of Chawla, Kalra and Kishan Kumaryielded a wealth of information. According to transcripts of tapes released by the Delhi Police, Hansie Cronje and Sanjeev Chawla appear to have spoken to each other on the phone several tim es when the former was touring the country as part of the recent cricketing engagement between India and South Africa. There was also at least one call made by Chawla from London to Cronje. This call was received by Cronje on Kalra's cellphone, which had been exchanged with Chawla and, in turn, handed over to Cronje when Chawla left for London in March. The conversations are explicit. According to the Delhi Police, they revolved around money transfers and match strategies to be followed. They were expli cit enough for the police to establish a prima facie case of criminal conspiracy and cheating. Other South African names that featured in the conversation were Herschelle Gibbs, Nicky Boje, Henry Williams and Pieter Strydom.

On April 6, the Delhi Police registered a first information report (FIR) against Cronje, Chawla and Kalra on various counts, including cheating, criminal conspiracy and fraud. On April 7, they announced their findings at a press conference.

According to the Delhi Police, Krishan Kumar's name had figured frequently in the conversations between Cronje and Chawla. Reports indicate that Kishan Kumarhad bet a sum of Rs.40 lakhs during the recent series. The Crime Branch is reported to have inter rogated Kishan Kumaron April 6 but did not arrest him; it seemingly lacked sufficient evidence. The Delhi Police believe that Kishan Kumaris part of the betting cartel. He is also believed to have been a frequent visitor to the south Delhi home of Rajesh Kalra, the other accused in the case.

Meanwhile, Kishan Kumar got himself admitted to a hospital in Noida near Delhi. When that hospital declared him fit enough to be discharged, he shifted to a corporate hospital. From there he was to move to the All India Institute of Medical Sciences, but the Enforcement Directorate (E.D.) arrested him and remanded him to judicial custody to probe the angle of the violation of the Foreign Exchange Regulation Act (FERA) in the transactions. He is currently in Tihar Jail and is being questioned by the E.D. regarding possible hawala transactions related to the betting and match-fixing inquiry.

Since Kalra's name had also allegedly figured in the taped conversations, he was picked up by the Delhi Police for interrogation. Raids on his house produced certain documents that the Delhi Police claim are incriminating. The E.D. took Kalra into custod y to question him on the hawala channels through which betting monies may have been transferred; he was lodged in Tihar too. The E.D. raided the premises of six bookies whose names were spilled by Kalra. However, all the bookies except one had fled. The one whom the E.D. did manage to find initially agreed to divulge information on the betting and match-fixing rings but backtracked after his name was leaked to the press.

The Delhi Police sent teams of their officers to various cities where one-day matches with South Africa were played in March. They claim to have collected valuable records and documents. One such record shows that both Chawla and Cronje made calls to the same number in South Africa fromrom their hotel rooms in Kochi. Both stayed in the same hotel and, according to the transcript of the tapes, may have met each other in the hotel and possibly struck a deal on the sum of money that would be routed through another South African person of Indian origin stationed in that country.

According to K.K. Paul, Joint Commissioner (Crime), Delhi Police, a list of names has been sent to the Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) to be passed on to the Interpol seeking information relating to bank accounts. The Delhi Police have consistently denied that they have come across any information that would link Indian cricketers to betting or match-fixing.

The Delhi Police's dramatic press announcement on April 7 alleging the complicity of Cronje in the matter also brought India to the brink of a diplomatic incident with South Africa. On April 10, the South African government approached India through its H igh Commissioner in New Delhi, seeking access to the tapes and a copy of the FIR. However, India pleaded its inability to hand over the tapes on the grounds that the matter was sub judice. Meanwhile, Cronje's admission of 'dishonesty' saved the da y for Indian diplomacy and vindicated the police claim.

In order to follow up on the excellent leads they have obtained and convert their intelligence information into hard evidence, the Delhi Police will now have to enlist the cooperation of the international police authorities through judicial channels. Man y of the key players allegedly involved in the Indian end of the cricket scam - such as Chawla and former international cricketer Ajay Sharma - are now in London.

The scandal that the Delhi Police now have on their hands involves not just a couple of individuals but an entire ring of bookies, punters, brokers and gamblers whose machinations have soured cricket for millions of wide-eyed fans.

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