S Sreesanth, Ajit Chandila, Ankeet Chavan and 11 bookies after being produced at the residence of Chief Metropolitan Magistrate at Saket court complex in New Delhi. PTI photo
Unusually long but almost hourly phone calls, conference calls to and from three notorious betting hubs of Asia, shifting cellphone locations and talk of big, hard cash led the trail to the spot-fixing scandal that Thursday rocked the latest season of India’s domestic T20 league.
By their own admission, Delhi Police's special cell sleuths were keeping tabs on the unceasing activities of the Mumbai underworld and its possible involvement in funding acts of terror in India.
When they stumbled upon “hundreds of hours of recorded conversations” in early April, they thought a plan for a possible terror attack during the league was being laid out.
After they found that the conversations were being held between men in Pakistan’s Lahore and Karachi cities and Dubai in UAE, investigators stepped up surveillance.
They knew they were onto something big when conversations repeatedly threw up words such as IPL, bhai, money, bookie and target (players).
"Initially, we thought that a sleeper cell was seeking funds for an attack on a crowded urban centre then we realised that it could be a cricket stadium too," said an officer.
"It was only when we began focusing on repeated use of words such as bookie and player that we understood this was an international betting operation. Ajit Chandila was the first person whose phone was put on surveillance."
An allegedly inebriated S Sreesanth was the first of the three Rajasthan Royal cricketers to be nabbed after being lured to the Opium Den pub in south Mumbai's Trident Hotel on the promise "some female company", officers associated with the operation told HT.
"When he was confronted and asked about his role, he claimed he wasn't involved. In fact, he thought using a phone registered in his friend's name would prevent us from connecting him to the conspiracy," the officer told HT on condition of anonymity.
The police said claims that one or the other underworld don was responsible for the latest scandal to hit the controversy-prone league would be pure speculation at the present juncture. Sources, however, claim a retired cricketer of south Asian-origin based outside India could the mastermind.
Delhi Police commissioner Neeraj Kumar said more details were expected to emerge over the next five days after the questioning of the cricketers.