Match fixing does not amount to cheating: Karnataka HC

Instances of match fixing unearthed by the Bengaluru crime branch police in 2019 during an investigation of corruption involving cricket players and team managements in the Karnataka Premier League T20 tournament does not amount to cheating the Karnataka high court has ruled while quashing a charge sheet against three players and a team official in the KPL.

A single judge of the Karnataka high court Justice Sreenivas Harish Kumar has ordered the quashing of a charge sheet filed against the former Karnataka cricket captain C M Gautam, two players Abrar Kazi and Amit Mavi, and the owner of the Belagavi Panthers team Asfak Ali Thara.

The high court has ruled that “match fixing may indicate dishonesty, indiscipline and mental corruption of a player and for this purpose the BCCI is the authority to initiate disciplinary action. If the bye-laws of the BCCI provide for initiation of disciplinary action against a player, such an action is permitted but registration of an FIR on the ground that a crime punishable under section 420 IPC has been committed, is not permitted,” the high court has ruled. “Even if the entire charge sheet averments are taken to be true on their face value, they do not constitute an offence,” the court observed.

The three players and the team official were arrested in 2019 over charges of fixing matches in the 2018 and 2019 editions of the Karnataka Premier League – a state-level version of the IPL that is organized by the Karnataka State Cricket Association. The crime branch police had alleged after investigations that some KPL matches were fixed by players and team officials with connivance of a board official.

The police investigations in the match fixing case against Gautam and the others began in 2019 after Bengaluru crime branch officials obtained information of match fixing during the probe of a separate match fixing case and registered an FIR with the Cubbon Park police.

The police investigation was challenged by the three players and team officials on the grounds that an FIR could not have been registered on the basis of a confession statement given in another case and on the grounds that a crime under section 420 of the IPC (of cheating) does not arise in the fixing cases.

The Karnataka high court has upheld the argument of the accused players and the team official of match fixing not amounting to cheating as defined under section 420 of the Indian Penal Code. The court has also ruled that betting on cricket matches does not amount to gaming as defined by the Karnataka Police Act to curb illegal gambling in the state.

“For invoking offence under section 420 IPC, the essential ingredients to be present are deception, dishonest inducement of a person to deliver any property or to alter or destroy the whole or any part of a valuable security,” the high court pointed out. “It is true that if a player indulges in match fixing, a general feeling will arise that he has cheated the lovers of the game. But, this general feeling does not give rise to an offence,” the judge has stated.

The counsel for the crime branch police argued during the case that the case amounted to cheating since “people buy tickets to watch a match” and they expect fair play and that matching fixing robs the game of fair play which results in the cheating of the ticket buyers among the public.

The high court also stated that cricket being a sport cannot be brought under the ambit of gaming as defined by the Karnataka Police Act to curb betting or gambling. “If section 2(7) of Karnataka Police Act is seen, its explanation very clearly says that game of chance does not include any athletic game or sport. Cricket is a sport and therefore even if betting takes place, it cannot be brought within the ambit of definition of ‘gaming’ found in Karnataka Police Act,” the high court has stated.

In one instance of alleged spot fixing in the KPL unearthed by the crime branch police, the Belagavi Panthers owner Asfak Ali Thara is alleged to have offered the Bellary Tuskers captain C M Gautam an amount of Rs 7.5 lakh to get a bowler to give more than 10 runs in an over during the 12th game of the KPL 2019 which was played on August 22 between the Tuskers and the Bengaluru Blasters. Gautam allegedly set up a deal with the off spinner Abrar Kazi during a practice session ahead of the game. Kazi was tasked with giving more than 10 runs when brought on to bowl and was given an advance of Rs 2.5 lakh for the job. During the match Kazi gave 11 runs – including two wides – when brought into bowl his first over (the seventh of the game), the match records reveal.

In the finals of the KPL 2019 season Gautam was allegedly asked by Thara to deliberately bat slowly during his innings. Gautam scored 29 of 37 balls and the Bellary Tuskers lost the game by eight runs while chasing a target of 152 set by the Hubli Tigers. According to the police Gautam received Rs 15 lakh as payment from Thara for the slow batting in the final.

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