June 23, 2000

Tearful end to Cronje's examination

The match-fixing scandal has become something of a soap opera with the lead characters changing from time to time. If initially it was Manoj Prabhakar, Kapil Dev, IS Bindra and Jagmohan Dalmiya who were the central characters, now the scene has shifted to Ali Bacher, Hansie Cronje and Mohd. Azharuddin. The Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) so far is playing a supportive role and it won't be long before it takes over. But in the meantime, the focus is on the proceedings at the King Commission.

On Friday, for the third day running, Cronje was grilled by the commission. The former South African captain admitted that "If they could get to me, they could get to anyone" referring to bookmakers or match-fixers. At the end of the gruelling two-and-a-half days session, the former South African captain finally got up from his seat and broke down in tears. During the course of the cross examination, Cronje who was repeatedly questioned on Azharuddin's dealing with the alleged bookie Mukesh Gupta could not throw much light. Cronje also admitted that he had tried to keep a cut for himself out of the amounts he had received from a bookmaker for his players to underperform during the tour to India earlier this year.

When the United Cricket Board (UCB) lawyers quizzed him on Azhar, Cronje replied ``He could have been involved with Mr Gupta but I didn't for any reason think he was doing business with Mr Gupta at all. If he's the one who has introduced me, then he can also do business with Mr Gupta.'' However, he also said he didn't think that Azharuddin was aware of the offer that Gupta made to him on that 1996 tour.

Cronje deposing before the commission said "the taped telephone recordings made by the Delhi police did not prove that he was involved in match fixing." This was a twist to the tale. Asked if a report of one transcript was authentic, Cronje said: "I had a lot of conversations with Sanjay. That could well be one of those conversations." He later asked angrily: "Am I to be tried in the media?"

Meanwhile, CBI sources told a news agency that Azharuddin had denied all allegations levelled against him including that of Cronje's. A CBI spokesman said that Azharuddin "denied all charges against him but added "He was very co-operative." Probing agency sources said that Azharuddin told sleuths of the investigating agency yesterday that he was not aware of the claims of Cronje, and that he had never indulged in match-fixing and the charges levelled against him were baseless and concocted.

The sources said Azharuddin could be called for further questioning. Azharuddin deposed before the investigating agency on Thursday. "The momentum has picked up" said a CBI official and added "we have been doing our homework. We have done quite well." With the base ready, the team is now set to examine the players in this game."

Meanwhile, the Government clarified that the amnesty could be 'withdrawn' to the money declared under the VDIS scheme if it is proved that it was 'ill gotten'. Talking to a news agency, an official said "the provisions of the VDIS scheme were very clear that the immunity was not available to the offences committed under the Indian Penal Code, Narcotics Drugs and Psychotropic Substances Act, TADA and prevention of corruption act. He added "Any withdrawal of the immunity would mean that the tax assessee would have to pay 60 per cent penalty on the disclosed income under VDIS."

On a separate front, the Union Minister of Sports and Youth Affairs Syed Shahnawaz Hussain made some indirect references on the matchfixing issue. Talking to a news agency on Thursday, Hussain said "If a player gets injured, he has to sit out. You can't include injured players in the side," hinting that players who are alleged in the 'Hansiegate' scam should step down. The government would not let the guilty go unpunished.'' He added that the "Law will take its own course. If anyone is found guilty, whoever he is, will have to face serious consequences."

The minister reiterated that the government was planning to introduce a code-of-conduct for the players in this year's sports policy. Hussain opined that "It has become necessary now, it seems. Earlier, there were hardly any complaints against the players. Now, there are a series of allegations against players of all disciplines," adding "The details of the code-of-conduct will be worked out shortly."

With the completion of Cronje's testimony, the scene shifts back to India from South Africa. The CBI having questioned some cricketers and officials, seems to have made some inroads into the entire affair. As more players and officials are likely to be questioned by the agency, one can expect loads of action in the coming days.