MONDAY, APRIL 19, 2010. Early in the morning, Finance Minister Pranab Mukherjee asked two of his closest officials in the Enforcement Directorate (ED) to start investigating — along with the CBI, the Income Tax (IT) and the Economic Offences Wing (EOW) — the financial irregularities in the hugely successful Indian Premier League (IPL) and its Commissioner, the flashy arriviste Lalit Modi. Mukherjee’s directives came amidst the gathering storm of allegations about match-fixing, betting, money-laundering and rigging of the bidding process for all the franchisees.
Standing close, a senior official of the Finance Ministry quietly remarked: “They should start with the Big Three.” The official was hinting at Manoj Badale, Chairman of Rajasthan Royals, Venu Nair, the CEO of World Sports Group, and Sundar Raman, the CEO of IPL. All three have been questioned twice before by officials of the Income Tax. “No wrongdoer will be spared,” Mukherjee told reporters after finishing a gruelling meeting with Home Minister P Chidambaram and Agriculture Minister and former BCCI supremo Sharad Pawar.
The heat is on. While Modi gets ready for some extensive grilling by ED, IT and EOW officials, Badale is already being questioned over Modi’s alleged hidden stake in Rajasthan Royals (RR). Meanwhile, Nair faces investigation for being part of a murky television deal last year that helped a Singapore-based middleman earn a whopping Rs 400 crore in commissions; and Raman is being questioned for allegedly sourcing illegal funds into IPL. Nair and Badale remained incommunicado, though the latter had actress and stakeholder Shilpa Shetty defending him by saying that the RR stakeholder is clear as crystal. Raman, in a brief telephonic conversation with TEHELKA, said: “The IT officials had some very basic queries.”
ED sources told TEHELKA that ever since investigations were launched, a number of people have been forthcoming with their stories of what looks like rampant insider trading at every level of the IPL’s business. There are chances that Narendra Modi’s home minister Amit Shah could also be questioned for his role in the bidding for IPL4. It has been reported that Shah had asked industrialist Gautam Adani to bid for an IPL team for Ahmedabad and was hoping — along with Modi — to get the Kochi franchisee disqualified.
Former Gujarat Cricket Association president Narhari Amin, a Congress leader, told TEHELKA that both the Modis were keen to get Ahmedabad a team but failed. In a spirit of camaraderie resplendent of the ‘Resurgent Gujarat’ ideal, he added, “If they — Shah and [Narendra] Modi — had sought my advice and not acted as novices, I would have told them to get more industrialists involved and up the stake.”
Similar inside stories have landed on the table of the ED and IT officials from one Sanjay Dixit of Rajasthan who was once a confidant of Lalit Modi. Dixit, say IT officials, has been singing like a canary and revealing what he claims is concrete evidence to nail Modi — who, it is alleged, is involved in manipulation of land deals in Rajasthan, and has routed payments and equity stakes worth crores of rupees using offshore entities.
IT and ED officials say they will also question Deepa Raizada, the CEO of Modi Entertainment, and Samir Thukral, founder of Delhi-based Shree Capital Advisors, who is another confidant of Modi. He is said to own an online lottery business and a private jet, and has been named in several real estate scams across India.
The charges are serious. No one is saying that Modi will be sent to jail tomorrow, but it’s undeniable that there’s tremendous internal politics within the world’s richest cricket board over the fate of a man who loved to call himself India’s Don King. The Governing Council of the BCCI is split over what decision should be taken after this weekend’s final of the six-week tournament — which The Guardian of London has described as a social, sporting and commercial phenomenon, worth an estimated $4.13 billion in just three years.
IPL INSIDERS say Modi — who is seeking advice from a top public relations firm (in addition to Adfactors PR) — remains upbeat about the investigations and says he has nothing to lose. At the time of going to press, he had thrown a direct challenge to what appears to be a ganging up of his former brothers-inarms in the BCCI, out to save their respective skins by making him the latest fall guy. “Lots in media — speculations. Welcome all investigation. Ready to extend all co-operation,” Modi tweeted from Dubai where he, along with IS Bindra, represented the BCCI at a meeting in the headquarters of the International Cricket Council (ICC).
Those who know Modi are not surprised. Long ago, he had once shunted out a member of the UAE royal family during a cricket match in the desert emirate — only to have several cases slapped on him by the royal family. He was eventually saved by the hectic lobbying of a group of UAE-based Indians and put on a flight back home immediately.
But this time the charges are serious. No one really knows what will eventually come out of the investigations, that could — more than a decade after the match-fixing scandal had rocked cricket — haunt the Indian cricket board in the days to come.
Modi, for the moment, wants everyone to watch the two semi-finals and, of course, the finals of his beloved brainchild, the IPL3. His final — he has told his confidants — will play out then, almost a fortnight after he and Tharoor tweeted to their doom, and possibly to that of the game’s most glamorous and exciting avatar.