"One week after we won the bid, Lalit Modi called some of the members of our consortium partners (in a face-to face meeting) and asked us to take $50 million, walk out and forget about the team. He said, ‘I'm interested in another team'. We refused."
"This is what happened," Satyajit Gaikwad, spokesman for Rendezvous Sports World Private Ltd, the Kochi consortium, told Hindustan Times on Wednesday. Gaekwad is a two- time Congress MP.
With Parliament resuming its budget session on Thursday the IPL war of words escalated to a new high with the Kochi team franchise, its mentor minister of state for external affairs Shashi Tharoor and his friend Sunanda Pushkar defending themselves and going on the offensive in the same breath.
Gaikwad, who is a cousin of Kochi franchise CEO Shailendra Gaikwad, accused the IPL chairman of "trying to create confusion" and "trying to undermine the team by making statements that will create doubt about us and force us to get out". He denied though, that two prominent Cabinet Ministers were part of any plan to force them out.
Modi called the $50m allegation "baseless" and "a figment of imagination". "I met him (the reference in this case was to Shailendra Gaikwad) at the conference and thereafter at the Maurya Sheraton hotel where all owners were present," he said.
"We also met during the signing ceremony and that is all. I want to know where I met him to make this offer."
Earlier, Modi had reiterated at a press conference in Mumbai that there were "question marks" over who the owners of the Kochi franchise were.
"The people who presented the bid documents themselves did not know who they (the owners) were. That is why this issue has come up," Modi said.
He later told HT , "It is not a crime to investigate the validity and credibility of the shareholders in the Kochi franchise. I want to know from Kochi owner Rendezvous about the shareholders who have a 25 per cent free stake with them.
The real issue is why should anyone get (shares) free of cost and a non-diluteable equity of 25 per cent?"
Gaikwad said this was "completely untrue".
"There has been no free equity at all, only sweat equity of 25 per cent for management services that will be rendered over time. In Mrs. Pushkar's case, she has been given five per cent sweat equity to look after everything from sponsorship to advertisement to branding and event and media management for the next 10 years. She has handled events for us in the past and is a professional in this field, so I don't see why she is being subjected to this needless controversy."
Pushkar issued a statement also angrily denying she was fronting for anyone.
"My own business interests and assets are substantial, and efforts to besmirch Tharoor by presenting me as a proxy for him are personally insulting for me as a woman and as a friend," she said.
Rendezvous was not taking prisoners on Wednesday.
"Every one of our partners, they were known to us in advance and each name was pre-disclosed in the bid document given to the BCCI-IPL," said Gaikwad, adding, "Every detail was furnished and scrutinised, which is why the bid was accepted. As far as who our directors are etcetera, that is not up to the IPL management, it is up to Rendezvous and they are all above board."
Gaikwad was insistent that Shashi Tharoor had "no benefit of any kind" from the consortium.
"His role as a mentor was basically because he is a leader from Kerala and a cricketer lover. It made sense."
Tharoor told NDTV Wednesday evening that he was "very angry".
"I've been vilified by Modi… there are other business interests at play here. In a democratic country like India, cricket or anything else shouldn't be a closed shop, it should be transparent."
Meanwhile, asked why the IT department was reportedly probing the consortium, Gaikwad said if it was, and he was unaware of that, it was "because of the confusion caused by Modi".
"There is no question of there being any questions about where the funding came from. The money invested by the consortium is all tax-paid."
So why did Rendezvous Sports, a management consultancy based out of Sholapur in Maharashtra, bid for Kochi? "How does it matter where a company is registered, the world is like a village now," countered Gaikwad.
"Shailendra was brought up in Sholapur and began the company there. But he has interests in south India, in the film industry and produces Malayalam films, so Kochi made sense."