Senior Supreme Court counsel Harish Salve leveled a sensational charge at Indian captain MS Dhoni when he accused him of making false statements to the Justice Mudgal committee appointed by the apex court to inquire into allegations of betting against BCCI chief N Srinivasan's son-in-law Gurunath Meiyappan. Did Dhoni indulge in a cover-up to save Meiyappan?
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HT spoke to several officials of the Mudgal Committee who revealed that the Indian captain's deposition in January this year at Delhi's Maurya Sheraton Hotel "was aimed at shielding Meiyappan".
According to one official, who was part of the committee's proceedings, "Dhoni maintained that Meiyappan did not sit in on team meetings nor was he part of any strategy sessions."
Another senior official corroborated this and further said, "Dhoni told the committee that he was solely responsible for selecting the players for Chennai Super Kings (CSK). He said that the final word was his."
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On questions pertaining to the management of CSK, Dhoni is said to have named several senior officials of India Cements, giving an impression that many people were involved.
On specific questions related to the auctioning of players – visual evidence of Meiyappan at an auction is available – Dhoni did concede to the committee that the team had a fixed auction budget and if that was exceeded then Meiyappan was consulted.
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Tape recordings of Dhoni's deposition are with the Supreme Court as are the summary notes and minutes of the Committee's meeting. When asked if Dhoni had indeed tried to shield Meiyappan, Justice Mudgal said, "No comments".
Nilay Dutta, a member of the Mudgal Committee, when asked to respond to Salve's charge that Dhoni had given false information, told HT, "One man's terrorist is another man's freedom fighter. It is for the Supreme Court to decide. The tapes are with them."
BCCI counsel Aryama Sundaram, argued vociferously in the Supreme Court, saying the Indian captain had not misled the committee. Asked to respond to Salve's charges, Sundaram said, "It is unfair and unfortunate because neither the court nor the counsels have yet heard the tapes or read the transcripts."
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In the report that was made public, the Committee, while referring to both Srinivasan and Dhoni, had said, "(They) took the stand that Mr Meiyappan, had nothing to do with the cricketing affairs of Chennai Super Kings and was a mere cricket enthusiast supporting CSK."
While addressing the role and position of Meiyappan in CSK, the committee, however, stated categorically that "It came to light that Mr Meiyappan would be with the team (CSK) during the practice sessions, would be present during team meetings, at the auction table, in the owners dug out, participated in the IPL owners meet, travelled with the team, participated in the IPL owners workshop representing himself to be the owner of CSK and held out to the world at large as the Team Principal/Team Owner of CSK."
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The committee finally did not go with the argument that Meiyappan was only an 'enthusiast'. While finding the son-in-law guilty of indulging in betting, it said, "The Committee is of the firm belief that Mr Meiyappan had knowledge of or was in position to easily access, sensitive team information, team strategies, knowledge about match conditions, etc, which knowledge/ information was outside the preview of an ordinary person following the game of cricket."