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Drug rap returns to haunt IPL boss Modi

The SC has been hearing a petition challenging Modi’s position as a cricket official since 2005 as he was convicted of committing serious offences in the US when he was a student. HT has the details.
By Nagendar Sharma and Varun Gupta | Hindustan Times, New Delhi
UPDATED ON MAY 28, 2008 01:44 AM IST

The high profile commissioner of the Indian Premier League, Lalit Modi, was convicted of possessing drugs, kidnapping and assault in the US during his days as a university student. The conviction came after Modi confessed to committing the offences before a North Carolina court.

In his defence, Modi’s lawyers say he did not serve the two-year jail sentence as he was let off on probation, and the Durham County Court did not give a final decision on his sentencing for drugs possession.

The Supreme Court has been hearing a petition challenging Modi’s position as a cricket official since 2005. But the case has acquired urgency lately after the petitioner asked for a quick resolution, either way.

Despite repeated attempts to contact him for a response through calls and SMSes, and despite explaining the story to him on SMS, Modi, though polite, indicated he would not comment.

Documents available with HT show Modi had pleaded guilty to possessing cocaine, abduction and assault in the state of North Carolina in 1985.

These documents are included in the petition being heard by the Supreme Court, challenging Modi’s election as president of the Rajasthan Cricket Association on the grounds that its rules do not permit anyone convicted of a criminal offence to hold the post of an office-bearer. The petitioner is Kishore Rungta, who was defeated by Modi in the elections.

If the court upholds the petitioner’s plea, Modi’s position as vice-president of the Board of Control for Cricket in India may also become untenable.

In 1985, General Court of Justice, Durham County, had charged Modi with kidnapping, assault and possession of 400 grams of cocaine, court documents show. He then entered a ‘plea bargain’, which is permitted under the US law and allows a reduced punishment without a trial if the accused confesses to his or her crimes.

“Since the case was reported in the press, in order to avoid further publicity, embarrassment, protracted litigation in a foreign country, heavy costs and consequent intervention with his academic career, he entered into plea bargaining,” Modi’s lawyers wrote in a submission to the Supreme Court.

The Durham County Court accepted Modi's plea bargaining application and found him guilty of kidnapping and assault. The court sentenced him to two years imprisonment and fined him $10,000.

On Modi's request, the court placed him on a five-year probation, asking him to undergo 100 hours of community service. The decision on sentencing for possession of drugs was deferred for five years on the condition that a $50,000 cash bond was deposited with the court. This is a normal practice in North Carolina for first-time offenders.

Modi moved the court again in 1986 -- after graduating from Duke University -- seeking permission to move to India on health grounds. The court ordered: "As a fact the defendant has been hospitalised. His doctors indicate that a return to his home in India would facilitate his recovery… The said probation be modified to unsupervised probation. As a condition, the defendant is to perform 200 hours of community service by 1990. He may return to his home…"

Modi's lawyers say the US court did not pass any final judgment on the drugs charge in the next five years and the cash bond was also discharged. North Carolina rules allow first-time offenders in drugs cases to be given the benefit of deferred sentences.The issue of Modi's conviction has been haunting him regularly. A public interest litigation in the Mumbai High Court in 2007 challenged his election as BCCI vice-president on the same ground. (See accompanying box)

Though the court refused to unseat Modi, it asked the BCCI "to implement stringent regulatory measures so that those involved in criminal cases, not just illegal drugs but other serious charges have no place in administration".

There are no indications so far that the BCCI paid any heed to the Bombay High Court's suggestions.

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