Delhi police special cell arrested three cricketers of the Rajasthan Royals team, including test-discard Shanthakumaran Sreesanth, in a late night raid on Wednesday after surveillance confirmed telephonic talks between bookies in India and Pakistan over betting in the ongoing T20 tournament.
In a swift follow-up, the Board of Control for Cricket in India (BCCI) ordered suspension of the three till further inquiry. The trio would be produced before a court in Delhi.
Sreesanth was arrested from his friend's house, while spinners Ankit Chavan and Ajit Chandila were picked up from the team hotel in Mumbai. Apart from the cricketers, seven bookies from Mumbai and two from Delhi have also been arrested, police sources said. Raids were on to nab two more bookies in Delhi.
In a statement, BCCI secretary Sanjay Jagdale said, "The BCCI is shocked and saddened at the recent developments. The BCCI has zero tolerance to corruption. We will offer all cooperation to the Delhi police and all other authorities in their investigations in this matter. The IPL Governing Council has met and decided that the cricketers found involved will be dealt with severely." He said, "It is wholly unfortunate that despite best playing conditions and terms of engagement offered, some players seem to be indulging in such activity."
All the three would be produced before a court in Delhi.
Meanwhile, Sreesanth's father Shantakumaran Nair has squarely blamed Indian captain Mahinder Singh Dhoni and Harbhajan Singh for implicating his son in the match-fixing scandal. He said his son was the victim of a larger conspiracy.
The Mumbai crime branch, which arrested three top bookies, said that a well-established link with some bookies in Pakistan, has been established. It is not ruling out the possibility of the underworld links.
Discussing the lead, police sources said the calls between India and Pakistan bookies were not disconnected till the end of the Wednesday night match with Mumbai Indians. Around Rs 400 crore was betted per match on the current T-20 tournament. Everything, right from match result, sixes hit, balls bowled, was up for betting, the sources said and added another former Indian test-discard, who bawled no-balls at a crucial juncture in a match, was also under the scanner.
The arrests were made after the special cell of the Delhi Police conducted months of investigation into alleged spot-fixing in the T20 league. The cricketers were arrested for spot-fixing in matches played this week and the last, said police sources.
Of the three bookies arrested, Ramesh Vyas had earlier been collared in 2005 in a similar betting case with notorious bookie Shobhan Kalachowkie. Vyas is a resident of Napeansea road in South Mumbai, and is believed to be in the same league as top Indian bookies, including Jupiter, Kothari and Bunty.
Jupiter is on the list of bookies wanted by the Delhi special cell, the sources said.
It is for the first time over a decade that Indian cricket players have come under scrutiny or have been arrested. The match-fixing scandal of the late 90s and early 2000 had seen some top Indian cricketers being arrested and banned from playing cricket.
The Delhi Police held a press conference in the national capital at 3pm where they explained how the three players and bookies allegedly went about spot-fixing.
The police claimed spot-fixing took place during three matches this season: Rajathan Royals' May 5 match with Pune Warriors in Pune; Rajathan Royals' May 9 match with Kings XI Punjab in Mohali and when Mumbai Indians defeated Rajasthan Royals on May 15 in Mumbai.
The three arrested players had a deal with bookies and gave "signals" to them before overs in matches, alleged Delhi Police commissioner Neeraj Kumar and Sanjeev Yadav, deputy commissioner of police, special cell, at a press conference in New Delhi.
But for the May 5 match in Jaipur Chandila failed to give signal to the bookie and had a fight with the bookie because of this. For the May 9 match, Sreesanth's signal was to put a towel in his trouser before his over.
For the May 15 match, Chavan was to signal the bookie by turning his wristband before he began bowling his "fixed" over. Chavan had allegedly agreed to give at least 13 runs in his second over. Chavan was to get Rs 60 lakh and perform as per the bookies instructions, the police alleged. Chandila, who was not playing this match, took some money as advance.
"It is a coincidence that players of the same team have come under our radar, but we cannot say that it is not happening in other teams," said Kumar.
A Delhi court on Thursday sent Sreesanth, Chavan and Ajit Chandila to 5-day police custody.
Besides the three players, Chief Metropolitan Magistrate Lokesh Kumar Sharma also sent to police custody the 11 bookies, arrested by special cell of Delhi Police from Delhi, Mumbai and Ahmedabad in connection with spot fixing, which includes bowling no-balls at pre-determined times.
Police had sought seven days police remand of the 14, contending saying they have collected total 55 mobile phones and laptops and they have to recover hawala money.
(With agency inputs)