NEW DELHI - London-based The Sunday Times’s claim on March 12 that small-time actor Nupur Mehta was used to offer cricketers money to throw matches has once again raised the spectre of match-fixing.
Mehta denies the allegations that she was used to fix the big-ticket India-Pakistan semi-final match at Mohali during the 2011 World Cup. “I don’t know any cricketer personally and I was at my home on the day the match was played,” she says.
But other Bollywood starlets aren’t cagey about having been approached to reach out to Team India and cricketers of other countries. Liza Malik, 25, says a UK-based bookie offered her Rs 50 lakh to put him in touch with a leading Indian cricketer during IPL-4 in May 2011. The cricketer was her partner on a TV reality show that she participated in. Malik was also a regular at IPL after-parties. The bookie, who introduced himself as Razzak, thought she could be a conduit to the cricketer.
“I was shooting in Thailand in May last year for an advertisement when Razzak started calling. He wanted me to arrange a meeting with the cricketer. He offered me Rs.50 lakh but I refused,” Malik says. “When I was rude with him he threatened me,” she adds. Malik filed a complaint with Oshiwara Police Station in Mumbai in May 2011. Her complaint was never taken up.
India Today spoke with prominent bookies in and around Mumbai to assess the seriousness of the allegations. Bookies say cricketers from Pakistan, Sri Lanka and West Indies opt for match-fixing because they are not paid much by their respective boards. Pakistani cricketers can be fixed for merely Rs.50 lakh whereas the amount goes up to Rs.10 crore per match when it comes to Indian cricketers.
Indian cricketers often demand beautiful women instead of money. A top bookie from Thane, Mumbai, says almost 80 per cent matches in the second and fourth season of IPL were fixed. He says a right-hand spinner, a left-hand batsman, a left-hand medium pacer and an all-rounder were “mostly interested in physical contact with models during IPL-4.”
Another bookie disagrees and says that Indian players’ involvement in fixing is less than players of other countries as they earn huge money through endorsements. Also, not everyone sells out. “No bookie can dare approach top players like Sachin Tendulkar, MS Dhoni, Rahul Dravid and Virender Sehwag due to their integrity. Some newcomers are also honest,” he says. Another reveals relations between an Ulhasnagar-based bookie Deepak Narayani alias Deepu Balaji’s and a “heavyweight” cricketer from Mumbai. “Balaji and the cricketer were allegedly involved in fixing three one-day international matches three years ago.” Narayani, who was arrested in 2002 and 2008 by Ulhasnagar police on betting charges, says the cases are false.
During the trial of Pakistani cricketer M Asif in London in October 2011, the public prosecutor informed the court that betting on cricket in Asia was worth $40 billion (Rs.2,000 crore). In Mumbai, a major centre for betting, around 10 bookies run the business, with most of them operating from outside India.
Ulhasnagar, a small town near Mumbai, has emerged as a major betting centre over the past few years. Sources say an Ulhasnagar resident known only as Jaggi is a prominent name in the betting syndicate. A person of Pakistani origin, Jaggi became an Indian citizen nine years ago. Pawan Chikki from Ghodbunder Road and Praful Katchchi from Dombivali operate in Thane. Some bookies are active in the temple town Shirdi.
Deputy Commissioner of Police Amar Jadhav, who had busted a betting racket in 2010, says bookies in Mumbai also exploit Indian students in the UK. “Betting in sport is legal in the UK but one has to have a local bank account to operate it. Hence, bookies access the bank accounts of Indian students studying in the UK. They pay them Rs.50,000 per month and use their bank account to route hawala transactions,” he says.