‘Need to probe Chawla’s links in India and Dubai’
Who were your accomplices in Dubai during the 2000 match-fixing scandal? Who are the other bookies in India? Was there a deeper role of a few prominent people from Mumbai, including members of the film industry, whose names came up in connection with the scandal?
There are three key questions that KK Paul—joint commissioner in the crime branch when he headed the Hansie Cronje match-fixing probe, and later Delhi’s police commissioner and governor of four states—would ask alleged cricket bookie Sanjeev Chawla if the man was brought before him.
Chawla, who was extradited from the UK on Thursday, will be interrogated by the Delhi Police for the first time, after a city court remanded him to 12 days’ police custody.
“The case has its links in Dubai. We got to Chawla while listening to tapped phone conversations related to a Karol Bagh businessman’s case. The man was getting extortion threats from a Dubai-based number. There were people or groups in Dubai who were working with Chawla. Delhi Police must find them,” Paul, 73, told HT.
The former top cop believes there is a strong case against Chawla, whom he called the “kingpin” of the case that eventually led to the ouster of South Africa captain Cronje following hearings in the King Commission in South Africa in 2001. It was a case that stunned the cricket world, opened the window to a sordid saga that involved cricketers from several countries, including India, and paved the way for anti-corruption laws in cricket.
“The phone conversations, which were intercepted after taking permission, are legally sound evidence. Chawla’s voice will be matched with the voice on the tape. During the probe, we matched Cronje’s voice with the audio tape of a cricket match in which Cronje did not play—he was a commentator. We got the tape from Doordarshan,” Paul recalled. “The best evidence is the taped conversation, which shows collusion, a meeting of minds. The King Commission hearings (in South Africa) and confessions made by Cronje and Herschelle Gibbs corroborate the Delhi Police case.”
According to the Delhi Police case, Chawla was in regular touch with Cronje during the cricket tour of India in early 2000, and conspired with him to fix matches. Chawla fled to the UK before Delhi Police could question him. Though India cancelled Chawla’s passport to facilitate his return, he later became a UK citizen.
Cronje died in a plane crash in South Africa in 2002.
Paul said the investigating officers must hold a joint interrogation with some of the prominent Mumbai celebrities to find the other links and the extent of their roles.
Narrating how they stumbled upon the case, Paul said that in November 1999, a Karol Bagh businessman complained of receiving threat calls from Dubai. Police then checked the Indian phone numbers that were in touch with that Dubai number. “Inspector Ishwar Singh managed to find a few numbers that were relevant to the case. One of the numbers was of a prominent member of the film industry; quite a few numbers were in touch with him. Sanjeev Chawla was among them,” he added.
Paul clarified that police investigation in the Cronje case did not point to the role of any Indian cricketer. Around the same time, however, five Indian cricketers were held guilty after a damning Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) report forced the Indian board to conduct an internal inquiry. They were handed fines and bans of varying duration.
“I do not think Chawla will reveal any new names from India. This case only pertains to the role of South African cricketers. Cronje had confessed to the King Commission. We have evidence that shows Chawla stayed in the same hotel as Cronje during the cricket matches [during the 2000 series in India]. There is enough evidence of criminal conspiracy,” he said.
The officer said while many of the main characters of the case such as Cronje and former South Africa coach Bob Woolmer have died, the Delhi police can still probe Chawla’s links in India and Dubai. “This case was important for many reasons. It exposed the extent of match-fixing. Many had refused to believe such a thing could happen,” he said.
Paul said the initial scepticism, especially in South African cricket, vanished when the Delhi police released the tape of a conversation in Afrikaans between Cronje and Hamid “Banjo” Cassim, a South African businessman of Indian origin with whom Chawla had allegedly been in touch.