New Delhi: Is London-based bookie Sanjeev Chawla the kingpin of all the fixing that takes place in cricket matches across the world, or is he just a front for the kingpin, a London-based businessman?
This is a question uppermost on the minds of cops of the Crime Branch of Delhi Police who extradited Chawla from London and pushed him to Delhi’s maximum security Tihar prison.
Chawla indicated to the cops in London that he was only the front and was working for this businessman of Indian origin, who has a number of hotels in England and India, and was in regular touch with some of the top cricketers of the world.
But Chawla has not named the person.
Chawla is in India for what happened way back in 2000 between him and former South Africa captain Hansie Cronje. Then the match-fixing scandal had shocked the cricketing world. Cronje, who died in an air crash, was the first cricketer to confess his involvement in the crime. No cricketer has ever confessed their involvement in fixing thereafter and investigations into fixing in cricket continued to flounder. More importantly, the Supreme Court is yet to open an envelope sent by the Retired Justice Mukul Mudgal Committee containing names of cricketers who needed to be probed for their possible involvement in spot fixing in the Indian Premier League (IPL), the world’s richest cricket tournament.
But this could change now that Chawla is back.
Highly placed sources in Delhi Police say the Ministry of External Affairs worked overtime in Chawla’s case. “The Cronje case is very old and the main accused is dead. But Chawla was high into betting and could spill beans on cricketers involved in spot fixing even after the 2013 IPL scandal.”
So why get Chawla?
“It makes a point, a very serious point and paves the way for Mallya and Nirav Modi.”
The sources further told this reporter that Chawla would also be asked if top cops from the CBI, ED and other IPS officers were trying to influence the betting and fixing investigation.
A top source in Delhi Police said Chawla’s involvement in the Cronje case was firmly established. The new developments in the case could revolve around those Indian and South African cricketers who were hauled up by the probe and eventually banned by the BCCI—namely, Ajay Jadeja and Mohammed Azharuddin. The last name was also a Congress MP from Moradabad, Uttar Pradesh. Both Jadeja and Azharuddin cleared themselves in courts from any involvement in fixing, shocking the cricketing world.
But Chawla will come handy for the cops for its probe into allegations of spot fixing in IPL, and also about his confessions to the cops of Delhi Police when they interrogated him four years ago at a hotel in London.
So what had Chawla told the cops in London?
He had named a former top Indian cricketer, saying the cricketer was deeply involved in spot-fixing matches.
He had also named another bookie who had splurged cash—obtained through hawala—at a Las Vegas casino in 2016. The Indian bookie had splurged Rs 5 crore every day for a four-day gig at one of the biggest casinos at Las Vegas, home to gambling in the US, Chawla had told the cops. Chawla, whose case was heard at the Westminster Magistrates’ Court in London, had told his interrogators that spot-fixing (which replaced match-fixing) was rampant with huge stakes.
“He is definitely the number 2, not the number 1. But an important cog in the fixing wheels in cricket across India and the world,” said the official. Investigators in London have agreed to share crucial details they collected from Chawla with the help of Interpol and associates of the bookie.
Officers of the Crime Branch are now on alert, they are now in touch with their counterparts in Mumbai, Chennai and a few other cities high on the betting radar and would be interrogating a large number of alleged bookies and former cricketers.
Interrogators of Chawla said the bookie also shed some light on the September, 2016, West Indies-Pakistan match at the Sheikh Zayed Stadium in Abu Dhabi and how the Caribbean batting in the third and final T20 was a total giveaway of what Chawla described as “institutionalised fixing of international cricket”.
Chawla explained the entire fixing operandi and said in the end overs, with decent wickets in hand, the hard-hitting Caribbean batsmen like Samuels and Pollard—known for hitting huge sixes—played dots and took singles, not even attempting to hit a boundary. “He (Chawla) explained how the team—a T20 World Cup winner a few months ago—folded up at an abysmal low of 103/5 in 20 overs, failing miserably for the third consecutive time and how the matches looked fixed because nothing could explain the way the West Indies batted,” the official further said.
Atul Kumar, a Kolkata-based official of the Indian Railways who has tracked spot fixing and betting in world cricket said it was time the cops made their investigation full-proof. “Only then a cleanup will happen and the BCCI and ICC will have to play an active role in it, like FIFA did to clean dirt from world football.”
A lot depends on what Chawla talks about. That case of 2000 was never closed, an extradition means the case will be reopened and interrogations start. “Bookies talk a lot, unless Chawla offers some genuine leads, this case will also fall through. But the fact that he is in India and housed in Tihar is good news. At least he will be open to interrogations,” said the official. The 2013 IPL case, which named a number of bookies and a handful of cricketers—including S. Sreesanth—is now being heard in the Delhi High Court after a lower court rejected the same. Former Indian cricketer Kirti Azad, member of India’s 1983 World Cup winning side, had once petitioned the Prime Minister’s Office to take a re-look into the 2013 IPL spot fixing scandal.
Delhi Police has already informed UK’s Crown Prosecution Service (CPS)—through India’s External Affairs Ministry—that Chawla would be housed in Tihar, Delhi’s maximum security prison, which has, on previous occasions, housed a host of corporate captains and top politicians and maintains high boarding and lodging standards. Chawla had raised several questions about security arrangements and facilities in Indian jails and urged cops in Britain to seek details about their arrangements and the jail he would be lodged.
Chawla has been told by the Ministry of External Affairs that he will be provided a special cell with special guards.
Chawla was arrested on 14 June 2016, following New Delhi’s extradition request. He faces charges of fixing cricket matches between India and South Africa in 2000. The Delhi Police, in July 2013, had filed a chargesheet in the scandal, naming Hansie Cronje, who died in a plane crash in June 2002. Chawla and Cronje were named in a 70-page chargesheet by the Crime Branch for “fixing matches played between India and South Africa from 16 February 2000 to 20 March 2000 in India”. The case was cracked by Assistant Commissioner of Delhi Police, Ishwar Singh, whose team had intercepted phone calls between former South Africa captain Hansie Cronje and Chawla and busted the 2000 cricket match-fixing scandal. A gang of extortionists had demanded Rs 5 crore from a Karol Bagh businessman and their numbers were on surveillance. Once the calls were analysed, the cops got some interesting lead and intercepted a call between Cronje and Chawla. Cronje was speaking from Kochi. The first ODI of the five-match series between India and South Africa was played at Kochi on 9 March 2000. India chased down a target of 302 runs, with three balls to spare, despite centuries from SA openers Garry Kirsten and Hershel Gibbs, winning by three wickets. Cronje and Chawla were in contact prior to the first ODI, the second game at Jamshedpur and also during the third and fourth matches. For the fifth ODI in Nagpur, Cronje received a promise of co-operation from his teammates Gibbs and Henry Williams, in return for payment, which eventually did not materialise.
The first major match-fixing scandal broke in April 2000, when Delhi Police intercepted a conversation between Chawla and Cronje, in which the South Africa captain had accepted money to lose matches. Chawla has also been accused of offering money to two England players in August 1999.
The transcript of one conversation between Cronje and Chawla is as follows:
Chawla: Is (Pieter) Strydom playing?
Cronje: Yes, he is playing. Yeah.
Chawla: (Nicky) Boje?
Cronje: Boje is playing.
Chawla: And who is playing? Gibbs?
Cronje: Gibbs and myself.
Chawla: Yeah, what about anybody else?
Cronje: No. I won’t be able to get more.
Chawla: You won’t be able to get more?
Cronje: No.
Chawla: Okay, just tell me. But you have only four with you and not anybody else?
Cronje: No.
Chawla: (Lance) Klusener…?
Cronje: No. No. Impossible. Impossible. The other guys are already angry with me because I have not received their money, you know.
Chawla: No. But I told you I have already given him altogether 60.
Cronje: Okay.
Chawla: And tomorrow I can deposit the money in your account. It is not a problem because of the time difference. Tomorrow itself I can deposit the money.
Chawla: Okay, and now how many runs for Gibbs?
Cronje: Less than 20.
Chawla: Less than 20?
Cronje: Yeah.
Chawla: Okay. So everything is according to plan, they have to score at least 250?
Cronje: Yeah.
Chawla: And if you score 270, it is all off?
Cronje: Okay. And financially the guys want 25. They want 25 each.
Chawla: All right, okay.
Cronje: So that’s 75 for those three and…what can you pay me? I do not know how much you can pay me.
Chawla: You say.
Cronje: If you give me…140 for everybody.
Chawla: 140 altogether?
Cronje: Yeah.
Chawla: Okay, that’s fine.
Cronje: Yeah.
Chawla: OK, that’s fine.
Cronje: OK.
Chawla: And we will sort something out for the previous one as well.
Cronje: OK, sure.
Chawla: Yeah?
Cronje: All right. So we definitely are on.
Chawla: OK, and one last thing I want to ask you…you know just in case India bat first and if they get out for less than 250 and when you come into bat for the second innings, is it possible that you could ask Gibbs to…his…wicket…we will score him out and try and score slowly and not so fast so that, you know…Maybe we can get out of it.
Cronje: OK.
Chawla: And just in case India is out for less than 250 if they bat first?
Cronje: OK, I will tell him.
Chawla: Yeah?
Cronje: I will tell him.
Chawla: And because if he starts scoring so early then we won’t be able to get out of it.
Cronje: OK. Not so early for the first five or six in the Indian innings.
Chawla: Yeah.
Cronje: OK.
Hansie Cronje initially denied the charges but later admitted to the King Commission his role in fixing matches and taking money. In June 2002, the disgraced former captain was killed in a plane crash.
Sports cognoscenti say this is a significant achievement for Delhi Police. India had inked the extradition treaty with the UK 27 year back, and Chawla is the first person who was extradited under the treaty. A 70-page chargesheet filed by the Crime Branch in July 2013 revealed that Chawla and Cronje were involved in fixing during India and South Africa matches played between 16 February and 20 March 2000, in India. The Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) undertook an investigation into match-fixing in 2000. On 2 August 2000, the International Cricket Council’s (ICC) Anti-Corruption Unit (ACU) director Paul Condon held an emergency meeting in London with the head of CBI’s team investigating the match-fixing. In September and October 2000, the ACU played a vital liaison role for the South African, British and Indian investigations. On 2 November 2000, the CBI’s report implicated several Indian cricketers and also criticised the Board of Control for Cricket in India (BCCI). The report also implicated a number of non-Indian players, but CBI wasn’t authorised to investigate allegations against foreign players.