The Lalit Modi saga has now become like a runaway train. As it whistles past red signals, destroying much in its path, it gets murkier and murkier. The latest in the scary journey is the revelation that the Enforcement Directorate (ED) is investigating whether the former Indian Premier League (IPL) commissioner holds stakes across teams, contravening the rules of the franchise-based tournament.
The focus of the probe is over allegations of proxy holdings by Modi, transactions made through tax havens and dubious stakeholders, in at least four teams. Any proof of such cross-holdings would call for an even more vigorous tracking of funds that went into buying the stakes.
Questions of shady transactions in IPL teams have come up ever since it was launched in 2008. The ED had raised concerns even in 2011, and had told the Parliament Standing Committee on Finance that it was investigating alleged proxy holdings by Modi.
Four years on, and across two governments, there is no sign of any forward movement on the issue. Enforcement Directorate officials now suspect cross-holdings with investments coming from known tax havens and through circuitous routes, making it tougher to trace the source of funding.
With the Modi scandal making top news daily and foreign minister Sushma Swaraj and the Rajasthan chief minister, Vasundhara Raje, facing demands to resign, the investigators can ill-afford to drag their feet.
The BCCI has always been criticised for being run by a coterie of political figures and other influential personalities. However, little has been done over the years to end that and bring professionalism into the cash-rich organisation. The IPL has added glamour and mega bucks to the game, but little effort has been made to clean things up.
Eight IPL editions are over, but there has still not been a concerted effort to reveal the stake-holding pattern and source of funds in the franchises. There are still unresolved aspects to the controversies surrounding Rajasthan Royals, Chennai Super Kings, Kochi Tuskers Kerala and Deccan Chargers — the last two were terminated by the BCCI — and the exit of Pune Warriors.
First, authorities should conduct a thorough, transparent and rapid investigation into all IPL financial dealings, and closely look at the actions of Modi and others who ran the league’s administration. The Centre cannot afford not to act on the serious allegations faced by the external affairs minister and Rajasthan chief minister as they raise questions of probity in public life.
At the same time, cricket bosses, regardless of their affiliations and influence, should be pushed to clear all unanswered questions in the IPL. It can’t be cricket as usual.