Illegal bookies escape punishment

Ravinder Dandiwal, one of the alleged masterminds of the fake Sri Lanka UWA Cricket League which was busted near Mohali, was out on bail 10 days after being arrested in July 2020. Dandiwal was charged under the Indian Penal Code’s (IPC’s) Section 420 that penalises cheating.

Over the years, several other Indians have figured in cases of cricket corruption, most like in the recent case involving Zimbabwe cricketer Brendon Taylor, as alleged bookies and match-fixers aimed to corrupt players, but none have received exemplary punishment. The lack of specific sports laws in India has helped those who made approaches to players get away lightly.

A year and half later, Dandiwal’s lawyer RS Sarao revisits the case that had scandalised the cricketing world. By holding a cricket league, published to take place in Sri Lanka but actually happening in a village near Chandigarh, Dhandiwal had to pull a fast one on online punters. It was an elaborate con as unknown players wearing Covid-19 masks posed as international cricketers. It was only after The Indian Express broke the story of the fake league that Punjab Police arrested the kingpin. But they couldn’t hold on to him for long.

Sarao says the court granted bail after the defence argued there was no grounds to prove cheating. “We countered with the question as to who was cheated. The complainant had alleged that he (Dandiwal) had organised fake matches. The court took a lenient view and granted bail,” says the lawyer.

The fake league wasn’t Dandiwal’s first dubious venture. Earlier, The Sydney Morning Herald had reported that Victoria Police had named him as the “central figure” in a fixing scam. Had Dandiwal faced courts in Australia, the country’s strict sports laws could have seen him face up to 10 years of prison time.

In India, the story is different. Recently an order of a bench of the Karnataka High Court upheld the argument of players and team officials, who were accused of match-fixing in the Karnataka Premier League, that the alleged corruption did not amount to cheating as defined under Section 420 of the Indian Penal Code.

“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 had stated. The court also said the Board of Control for Cricket in India (BCCI) is the authority to initiate disciplinary action.

Lack of a law

Nandan Kamath, a sports lawyer who runs the firm LawNK, says the Karnataka High Court’s order is not surprising and in line with precedent.

“The judiciary only interprets the laws that exist and match manipulation is not itself a crime. The court cannot designate something as a crime or expand interpretation of an offence like cheating just because the behaviour is morally abhorrent or unethical. The one big difference in what happened in the United Kingdom when Pakistan players Salman Butt and Mohammad Amir were prosecuted for spot-fixing is that betting is a legal and licensed activity in the UK. So, on the charge of cheating, they were convicted under the Gambling Act for dishonestly causing loss to people who were placing legal bets. In India, where sports betting is treated as illegal, persons placing bets are themselves breaking the law and cannot claim to be victims of cheating. On a related note, the Karnataka High Court did not accept the argument that those fixing matches were dishonestly inducing persons to buy tickets to watch the match as the loss was not direct in nature,” Kamath said.

He gives an example of a law enacted closer home, in Sri Lanka, in 2019.

The Prevention of Offences Related to Sports Act got the nod from Sri Lankan parliament in 2019. It criminalises betting and gambling with the intention to corrupt a sport, disclosing inside information and underperforming in exchange of money or reward.

There has been a push in India for punishing match-fixers by making it a criminal offence and legalising betting to weed out black money.

There has been a push in India for punishing match-fixers by making it a criminal offence and legalising betting to weed out black money. (File)

The Lodha Committee, which was tasked with bringing in reforms to the BCCI had recommended that spot-fixing be made a criminal offence. Before that, the Justice Mukul Mudgal committee, which probed the 2013 IPL spot-fixing scandal, had recommended legalising sports betting.

Kamath says that making match manipulation a criminal offence must be on the regulatory agenda and not confused with legalising betting as a solution for sports corruption. “Fixing and sports betting are two separate issues that are co-dependent but not co-related. It is a betting fraud that is causing match-fixing. The argument often used is if you legalise betting, match-fixing will get fixed. But I do not agree. Legalising betting does not make the whole industry come under the legal market as much of the fixing-related betting is off the books and will remain so. In fact, it is probably the other way round. Making match-fixing an offence could probably pave the way for legalising betting,” Kamath argued.

The International Cricket Council’s (ICC’s) then anti-corruption unit chief Alex Marshall’s statement three years ago that ‘it is mostly corrupt Indian bookies’ who have been approaching players was not off the mark. In the absence of a strong law which can act as a deterrent, the connection between Indian bookies posing as businessmen, cricket and dirty money remains strong.

Indian bookies

The latest cricketer to take the bait from the corrupters based out of India is former Zimbabwe skipper Taylor.

Before Taylor, there was Zimbabwe great Heath Streak, a veteran of 65 Tests, whose legacy was forever tainted after he was banned for eight years for sharing team information with an ‘Indian gentleman’ and introducing him to players.

Earlier, another Zimbabwe cricketer, former skipper Graeme Cremer, had reported to ICC an offer to fix Test matches against the West Indies in 2017. Rajan Nayer, an official with the Harare Cricket Association, offered Cremer $30,000 from the pockets of three Indian businessmen who travelled to Zimbabwe. Their official reason to travel to the African country was to discuss sponsorship for a proposed T20 tournament.

One of the businessmen Nayer had met was on the radar of the ICC anti-corruption unit.

The offer to Cremer came at a time when Zimbabwean players had not been paid their match fees for a few months because of a cash crunch. Taylor, in his statement on Twitter, talks about not being paid for six months at the time (October 2019) he was approached by the Indian businessman ‘to discuss sponsorship and potential launch of a T20 competition’. An amount such as $15,000 to make a trip to India for a meeting proved to be too tempting for an unpaid cricketer who snorted cocaine.

There’s a similar storyline in Streak’s fall from grace.

Streak, as head coach of Zimbabwe, had given up his salary along with the other support staff, to offset player pay cuts during the 2019 World Cup qualifiers, the Cricketer Monthly reported. Zimbabwe failed to qualify and Streak lost his job. The Indian businessman, who wanted to organise a T20 league in Zimbabwe, had got in touch with Streak when he was national coach. Two bitcoins worth $35,000 and an iPhone were some of the inducements the former all-rounder received.

Streak is one of the few well-known players to pay the price for getting involved with the wrong people in cricket. But recent instances of bookie-player nexus revolve around lesser- known cricketers who represent Associate nations.

Business card a front

The poorly-paid cricketers are the ones bookies find easier to target because of their anonymity. ICC investigations have led to cricketers from the United Arab Emirates, Hong Kong and Oman being banned for corruption. Their names won’t strike a chord like those of Taylor and Streak but some of their sins are graver.

An Indian hand, a bookie that uses his business card as a front, is often the conspirator.

Three Pakistani-origin Hong Kong players, who were charged for underperforming during the 2014 World T20 Qualifiers, were in contact with a jeweller of Indian origin based in Hong Kong. Two of these players were regularly in touch with the jeweller who is referred to as ‘P’, telephone records obtained during the ICC investigation show. ‘P’ was in touch with ‘X’, a known match-fixer from Pakistan. Suspected Indian bookies are always lurking around the corner and on rare occasions, have even successfully targeted established players.

Bangladesh all-rounder Shakib Al Hasan was first contacted by a suspected corruptor during the 2017 edition of the Bangladesh Premier League. Shakib was banned for two years, of which one year was suspended, for his failure to report approaches; during an ODI tri-series involving Sri Lanka and Zimbabwe in 2018 and during the Indian Premier League in the same year when he represented Sunrisers Hyderabad.

The man who asked the Bangladesh captain for inside information and discussed bitcoins and dollar accounts over WhatsApp messages went by the name of Deepak Aggarwal.

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