Amid the hype of the recent India-Australia Test series, a significant development in the Indian match-fixing saga was ignored. On February 10, 2023, the fixing-related life ban on the last two Indian cricketers still serving punishment was lifted; in all, six players have been banned for life so far.
With the Board of Control for Cricket in India (BCCI) ombudsman reducing the life bans on Ajit Chandila and Taduri Prakash Chandra Sudhindra to shorter terms (that are over), all 15 Indian cricketers, banned between 2000 and 2013, are now free.
Chandila, S Sreesanth and Ankeet Chavan were banned for life for their roles in the 2013 IPL betting-spot-fixing scandal. Sreesanth and Chavan had earlier received favourable orders from the ombudsman after moving courts of law.
It’s pertinent to note that different Indian courts have had a role in lifting or reducing life bans on all six cricketers. They either directly exonerated the cricketers, or directed the BCCI to review the punishments. Acting on such directions, successive BCCI ombudsmen reduced the bans while the other banned players served their lesser bans before returning to the official fold.
The lone man who has had a ‘hand’ in the punishments meted out to all 15 cricketers — 72-year-old Ravinder Nath Sawani, a former Joint Director (Special Crimes) with the Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) — says that there was solid proof against the banned players and that their life bans were reduced on other considerations.
Also read: Cricket Corruption: How reforms led to the match-fixing scandals
A former General Manager and Chief Investigator of the International Cricket Council’s (ICC) Anti-Corruption and Security Unit (ACSU) between 2007-2012 and the head of the BCCI’s Anti-Corruption Unit (ACU) between 2012-2015, Sawani emphasised that the evidence collected against the cricketers was “good enough to convict them”.
The first of the three probes, either by Sawani, or under his supervision, was the Hansie Cronje match-fixing scandal in 2000 that culminated in the publication of the famous CBI report that year. Later, he investigated some Indian domestic players on whom India TV had done a sting operation in 2012, the year he also established the BCCI ACU. Lastly, he probed the 2013 IPL betting-fixing scandal.
In an exclusive interview following the Chandila and Sudhindra orders, Sawani spoke to The Federal on a variety of issues regarding malpractices in Indian cricket and the absence of a strong law to tackle match-fixing offences. Excerpts from the interview:
Looking back at the efforts of the BCCI ACU team under you, do you feel betrayed (by lifting of bans on all players)?
No, I personally wouldn’t. They were banned, which to us would mean that the evidence collected by us was good enough to convict them in the first place. Again, at no point in time – and I emphasise that – any court or any higher authority has found a problem with the evidence collected or negated the evidence. The only thing on which they (courts and ombudsman) are taking a view on is whether this punishment is too severe, or should it be reduced to an extent and another opportunity in life be given to these players. I feel that’s fine, and I don’t feel in any way unhappy about the entire issue.
Even in Mohammed Azharuddin’s life ban case, the Andhra Pradesh High Court had said that a person from outside had probed the 2000 match-fixing scandal while BCCI constitution didn’t allow that. So, based on that technicality, the court lifted the ban on Azhar. Later, a Delhi court lifted the life ban on Ajay Sharma based on the Andhra court order.
These were purely technical matters on which they were reprieved. Till date, not one court has said anything about the falsity of the evidence that was collected. It all stands there as solid proof that all these people were involved in some sort of match-fixing and their guilt was proved beyond doubt.
In the 2013 IPL betting-fixing case, Delhi Police filed a chargesheet against 42 persons, including Sreesanth, Chavan, Chandila, bookies and punters in a New Delhi District Court. The court discharged all in July 2015, saying that no prima facie case under MCOCA (Maharashtra Control of Organized Crime Act) could be made. Did that come as a setback?
Let’s get the perspective right. First of all, till today there is no law in India which criminalises match-fixing. I’m surprised that our parliamentarians are not legislating a law against match-fixing. I don’t think any lawmaker can be against moving a bill in Parliament against match-fixing. Having said that, a court clearly goes by the legal process and cannot take recourse to any other method.
Also read: Sreesanth says ‘I’m free’ as his spot-fixing ban ends
Here is a case where the Delhi Police is putting a chargesheet where the ingredients of MCOCA are not made out. The ingredients of no criminal offence are made out, as per law. Obviously, the judge has to take total legal view in this, nothing else, and not be pushed away by any other consideration. So, to that extent, I personally agree with the judge…what she said was absolutely fine. And I wouldn’t say that it was a setback against this process. It’s for parliamentarians and legislatures to take note of what the judge said. I’m surprised that none of them have taken any note of it. I’m emphasising this again and again.
After the New Delhi sessions court judgment, Chandila’s lawyer had told me that he had found a lot of loopholes in the inquiry that you did as the BCCI ACU head. He charged that it was an “illegal inquiry”, that Chandila’s examination was oral, that there was no material with you, and that the process he followed was an eyewash.
I’m not here to defend the process we followed. But what he stated was wrong. All examination, of every witness, was done in writing; everything they said was put in writing. At the end of the written copy was a line that said, “the statement was read over to me, and I find it absolutely correct, and that there is nothing that I need to object in this”. Chandila signed at the end of the statement and after that he signed an affidavit also, saying he had given this statement.
Also read: Pakistan Cricket Board wants to criminalise match-fixing
So, there were two signatures and those statements are available with the BCCI. To say that it was an oral examination is not correct at all. Obviously, it is every lawyer’s prerogative to defend his client and find loopholes. But to my mind, I was not answerable to the lawyer; I was answerable to the BCCI disciplinary committee which found that to be sufficient evidence. I wish that the lawyer had challenged it on the basis of the procedure followed. He did not. Nobody has challenged either the evidence, or the procedure followed.
You found Chandila guilty on seven counts of the BCCI Anti-Corruption Code. Do you feel that the provisions in the code were at that time sufficient to nail those who indulged in betting or spot-fixing or match-fixing?
Yes. The code followed by the BCCI was the same as the ICC anti-corruption code. There was no difference in any clause. The offences were the same, the punishments were also the same. The ICC gave a template of its code to the BCCI. Incidentally, that template was prepared by me when I was with the ICC ACSU and it was shared with all the cricket-playing nations. Each one of them adopted those codes for their domestic cricket. There were sufficient provisions in the code to take care of any match-fixing offences.
Also read: CBI books 3 for alleged match-fixing in IPL; probes Pakistan angle
A few cricket experts believe one or two players in a team of 11 can’t fix a match per se, and that a majority of players in a team is needed to fix a match. Do you agree with this?
What you say is quite true — today it’s spot-fixing that can be taken up against individual people and not the whole match. But I also have a view. Take, for example, a very important player who’s known for hard-hitting, known for making good runs at a very fast pace. He goes onto the pitch and keeps tapping the ball without making any runs. It’s a 20-over match and if you waste, say, three or four or five overs doing that, neither giving a chance to another player to bat, then largely he can contribute to a definite conclusion of a match. So, theoretically, it is still possible for one man to influence, depending on how important in the team hierarchy he is. But, yes, I agree that largely it is the spot fix which is more prevalent these days.
The first man to be extradited since the 1992 extradition treaty between India and England was alleged bookie Sanjeev Chawla (in the 2000 Cronje scandal) in February 2020. That case is also hanging fire. It is presently in a trial court. In India, it takes a long time for the courts to decide…
I’m against scepticism. I’m not too familiar with other aspects of the case. But, if you look at giving money to Cronje through some source, or exchanging some money for the purpose of match-fixing, there isn’t any law that criminalises it. To that extent, I think Sanjeev Chawla must be sitting absolutely snug that nothing’s gonna (happen)…I’m sure his lawyers would have already advised him on that.
(The author is a Delhi-based cricket journalist who has covered the sport for over three decades. He tweets at @AlwaysCricket)