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The noose may be tightening around the Indian players who have been suspected of being involved in the match fixing scandal. This was the unmistakable impression after, in what was a swift and well coordinated operation, Indian Income Tax officials on Thursday raided the homes of top cricket players and officials across the country. Their action is bound to have wide ranging repercussions and could spark a fresh scandal in a sport already hit by match-fixing charges.
``We are carrying out the operations in about 90 different places. In some places, we are making searches and in others surveys,'' said SC Parija, director general of income tax investigations.
Among the homes raided were those of current national coach Kapil Dev, former captain Mohammad Azharuddin, and current players such as Ajay Jadeja, Nayan Mongia and Nikhil Chopra.
The raids were carried out in Delhi and Bombay, as well as Calcutta, Chandigarh, Bangalore, Hyderabad and Jaipur. The house of former International Cricket Council president Jagmohan Dalmiya in Calcutta was among those targetted in the raids. The premises of 40 alleged bookmakers were also being searched.
``We are co-ordinating with the Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI). We have kept them informed. They will be looking at the criminal angle, while we will investigate the undisclosed incomes,'' Parija said. ``By tomorrow, all the details will start coming out.''
The CBI is already conducting an inquiry into the match-fixing scandal in Indian cricket.
In Hyderabad, an agency reporter saw six tax officials enter Azharuddin's house in the posh Banjara Hills locality at 11:00 a.m. Two officials left the house carrying a suitcase, which eye-witnesses said they took to a local bank before returning and rejoining the search.
It may be recalled that Azharuddin was named in testimony given by Hansie Cronje to the King Commission of inquiry in South Africa.
Nikhil Chopra's lawyer when contacted however maintained that the cricketer was not in any way connected with the match fixing scandal.
In Baroda, BCCI secretary JY Lele said the Income Tax raids could be related to the match-fixing controversy.
Lele said the Board had nothing to hide. ``All payments made to cricketers by the Board have been through demand drafts. The Board's transactions are on record. I can't say anything more on the raids since it is a government exercise," he said.
In the meantime, Hansie Cronje, due to arrive in London this week to discuss his future with his advisor Max Clifford, put off his plans fearing India might seek his extradition, according to British media reports.
Cronje had been told by his lawyer his extradition would be sought by India if he travels to England as the Delhi police wants to question him about the match-fixing scandal.
A London-based publisher, Collins Willow, has sought a synopsis of what Cronje would say about his transgressions as captain of the South African team.
Cronje is understood to be seeking 250,000 pounds but an advance of this magnitude will depend on whether newspaper serialisation can be obtained. There is also a possibility of the sale of film rights, according to reports which added that Cronje was likely to be sought by Delhi police if he travels to another cricket-playing nation.
And not unexpectedly, the Pakistan Cricket Board (PCB) has decided to take an undertaking from its cricketers that they will not indulge in match-fixing, gambling or any other irregularity during international cricket matches.
A decision to this effect was taken at the PCB meeting held in Lahore on Wednesday. Lt Gen Tauqir Zia was in the chair, reports said. The members of the national team will be required to sign the undertaking before the team's departure for a triangular series in Singapore in August.
This step was taken on instructions from the International Cricket Council (ICC) which has also sent a pro forma to be signed by all cricketers participating in international tournaments.