Matchfix saga has Bollywood honeytrap now
Mazher Mahmood, the undercover reporter who exposed in the now-defunct News of the World the spot-fixing scandal during Pakistan's tour of England in 2010, has written an article in The Sunday Times, London, saying crooked Indian bookies are using an actress to lure players into corruption. Excerpts from the article follow:
Trade was brisk for the tea salesman in Gurgaon. Customers who poured out of the nearby bars assembled around his battered wooden cart, but it was not the contents of his tea urn they were interested in.
Hidden beneath the cart, the salesman pulled out cheap mobile phones. These were no ordinary phones, and they weren't for sale. Punters who snapped up the mobiles — for a rental of around Rs 800 a week — were buying a stake in one of the world's biggest gambling rings that extends throughout the Indian subcontinent and beyond.
The millions of cricket-mad gamblers in the teeming cities and slums of India are helping to finance something altogether more sinister — the subversion of the sport by a network of match-fixers.
The jailing of three Pakistan cricketers last year and an English county cricketer last month for conspiring to cheat has done nothing to deter the match-fixers.
An undercover investigation by The Sunday Times, London, has revealed just how far the corruption extends, and the identities of some of the men behind it.
The story starts among the fans who are prepared to bet on any cricket match anywhere in the world — including English county cricket games. Millions of pounds change hands through a network of undercover bookies. The rented mobiles are crucial because they provide punters with a special match "commentary": punters lay bets with their local bookies using the odds announced by the commentator whose voice is broadcast down the phones.
The bookmakers' activities are illegal in India, yet they are as much a part of the nation's culture as chai.
With huge amounts of money at stake, bookies can earn a fortune by knowing in advance the outcome of games or parts of games, from the number of runs scored in a fixed period, individual scores, the fall of wickets, no-balls and wides to the number of catches that will be dropped and even the result of the toss. Most of these can easily be fixed and bookmakers profit by luring punters with favourable odds. The role of the match fixers is to obtain the co-operation of players — by bribing them.
Through a series of secretly filmed meetings we discovered just how well-organised — and lucrative — the racket has become.
At a bar in Gurgaon, we met Vicky Seth, one of Delhi's most influential bookmakers. While the one-day cricket international between England and Pakistan in Abu Dhabi on February 15 blared out on the TV, Seth poured himself a large Chivas Regal whisky and chatted to undercover reporters posing as fellow bookies.
"(Match fixing) will always carry on in cricket," he said. "There is just so much money involved and it's easy to do as long as people don't talk.… Obviously the big money is to be made in big matches — Test matches, Twenty20s, the IPL (Indian Premier League) and BPL (Bangladeshi Premier League).
"But any match that is televised is good for us, which is why English county cricket is a good new market. They are low-profile matches and nobody monitors them. That's why good money can be made there without any hassle if we can get the players to play for us."
The recent case of the Essex cricketer Mervyn Westfield shows that men such as Seth can recruit players to cheat. Once tipped as a future England bowler, Westfield was given a four-month prison term last month after admitting he had received £6,000 (Rs 4.8 lakh) to concede at least 12 runs in his first over in the Natwest Pro40 game against Durham in 2009.
After our meeting with Seth at the bar in Gurgaon, the smartly dressed bookie agreed to meet our undercover reporters at the nearby Country Inn hotel. Here he elaborated on his claims to be able to throw overseas matches, naming several players he said were corrupt.
"At the moment we've got connections with New Zealanders. I did some fixing with (names a player) and (names another player) back in 2010," he claimed. "I met them direct in Delhi. (One) is still working with us. After that we got some Pakistani players."
Seth, who hides his corrupt gambling behind a legitimate property business, alleged that last year's World Cup semi-final between India and Pakistan — one of the biggest matches of recent years — had been rigged.
"I don't have any links with any English players, but there is a bookie in Delhi who does. He's my good friend also. He definitely has connections in England with players. They have done business (fixing) once before."
Sure enough, we quickly found another Delhi bookmaker who elaborated on claims that English players were being approached — and corrupted — sometimes through the use of honeytraps: women who act as go-betweens.
"Attractive girls are the ideal choice to cosy up to players and to persuade them to work for bookmakers. Players are always surrounded by fans and groupies so nobody suspects a thing when they walk in and out of player's hotel rooms.
"Players are always vulnerable to approaches by pretty girls and when they are offered the opportunity to make fortunes for making minor adjustments in their play, it is an irresistible package.
"Besides, many players are now wary of even being seen with fixers or bookies so if all the deals are done through their supposed girlfriend, then it is the perfect solution."
The ICC is aware of the activities of a Bollywood actress, suspected of attempting to subvert players. Officials were alerted by reports from four players who reported her suspicious approaches to them. Keen to learn more about the amounts at stake, we arranged to meet a man known to his clients and contacts simply as Monubhai.
Said to be a wealthy entrepreneur, he owns a string of restaurants in India and China as well as a chemical factory, but for thrills works as a bookie. Monubhai agreed to meet our reporters at the Royal Plaza hotel in Delhi to discuss match-fixing opportunities.
Accompanied by two minders, Monubhai, aged in his forties and wearing a white designer sweater, clutched three mobile phones as he arrived at the hotel. He relaxed in a leather sofa chatting on his BlackBerry while his minders vetted our reporters.
Once satisfied that we were genuine, he said: "I have boys that handle this business (illicit gambling) for me. I give out instructions but when something (match-fixing) has to be done, I do it quietly.
"I never discuss anything like this with my staff because if anything ever leaks out, it's always through your staff."
Monubhai said that fixing remained rife. "The second match in the BPL (on February 20)... that was fixed. I was in Calcutta and I received a phone call that the match had been fixed," he claimed. "I asked who had made the arrangements and was told the name of the guy. I phoned him directly and got in on the deal. Three or four players were in on the fix."
Monubhai claimed that he had worked with players from almost every main cricketing nation to fix games and that he had recently been offered an opportunity to sign up New Zealanders.
"I was invited to strike a deal with some New Zealanders but I didn't go. The IPL starts on April 4 then everyone will be doing it (match-fixing)," he explained.
"I will let you have results with scripts (details of 'fixes' set up in advance, such as agreed no-balls, or agreed numbers of runs). I've got players there.
"I will tell you, in this team there are five players, by the fifth over two wickets will be down, the third wicket will go in the seventh over, the fourth will go in the eighth, by the tenth five will be out, the total score will be below 110. I will give you the whole lot. Everything we say will happen."
Told by our undercover reporters that they had access to some corrupt players, Monubhai replied: "If they will do something for us, it's our duty to give them (money). We will pay them for their work."
Turning to the terms of his illicit deal and the rewards, he continued: "I don't pay upfront. You send your guy who will sit with me and there will be a bag full of cash and you can check the amount.
"As soon as the job is done, you take your bag. We can pay in London or anywhere in the world that you want. My cousin is in London so it's no problem.
"Test matches are very good. You have good time to bet, to do each and everything. In Twenty20s the rates fluctuate in a couple of minutes and you have to catch them.
"The money is three crores for a result. If one player will do (fix) a session, if he is a bowler ... it's 40 lakh to 50 lakh in Indian rupees. If it's two batsmen, 70 lakh (or) 35 each. No need for them to give (away) their wicket, we're not telling them to throw their wicket. We're only saying to them, stop the score.
"It's approximately £400,000 (around Rs 3.2 crore) for a result. That's an international match, not for any domestic. For a single bowler make it around about £50,000-60,000 (per session). It depends on the bowler. If we are happy we give a £5,000 or £10,000 gift. For two batsmen, it's £100,000. This is for ODIs."
Shortly after the meeting, Monubhai called our reporters and raised his offer for us fixing an international match to £750,000 on the proviso that any deal would be exclusively with him.
Back in Gurgaon, where scores of gamblers had watched England's comfortable one-day international victory over Pakistan, a man selling blocks of ice had, like the tea salesman, become the focus of attention.
Another low-level agent of the betting syndicates, he pulled a pile of weathered bank notes from his pocket and began to hand out winnings — paltry sums in comparison with the amounts of money pocketed by the bookies — to the fortunate few. The losers, among the millions who fund the trade in match-fixing, walked disconsolately into the night.
|THE SUNDAY TIMES, LONDON|