New Delhi: The Crime Branch of Delhi Police has finally got the custody of Sanjeev Chawla — a blacklisted bookie and also the main accused in a 20-year-old match-fixing scandal involving former South African team captain Hansie Cronje and his fellow cricketers Herschelle Gibbs and Nicky Boje.
Chawla was extradited from the UK — four years after the procedure to bring him back to India for further probe in the case began.
Chawla, who was handed over to the Delhi Police by Scotland Yard in London, reached Delhi Thursday noon.
ThePrint takes a look at how the Crime Branch stumbled upon the match-fixing case, evidence against Chawla, his escape and the chargesheet, which was filed 13 years after the scandal broke out.
Extortion case led police to Cronje
It was in April 2000 that the Crime Branch stumbled upon the match-fixing scandal.
The police was investigating an extortion case of 1999 involving a D-Company (Dawood Company) operative from Dubai, Shaheen Haitheley, which eventually led them to the country’s biggest match-fixing scandal.
“We were looking into the case of a businessman from Karol Bagh who had received a call from Dubai for a ransom of Rs 5 crore. During investigation, we analysed the two numbers from Dubai from which the businessman was receiving the extortion calls and that led us to Cronje,” Ishwar Singh, the Crime Branch officer investigating the case at that point, told ThePrint.
Singh said the police did a reverse call detail records check on the two Dubai-based numbers to see if any calls were going from India on those numbers. That is what led them to Krishan Kumar, brother of slain T-Series founder Gulshan Kumar.
“We found that there were several calls from one number from India on those Dubai numbers. When we got it checked, the number was registered in the name of T- Series and then we found that it was Krishan Kumar who was making calls to those numbers from India,” Singh said.
The Crime Branch then put Kumar’s phone on interception.
To their surprise, the person who was actually operating the phone turned out to be Sanjeev Chawla and not Krishan Kumar.
“When we heard the conversation, it was the voice of Sanjeev Chawla. He spoke about catches dropped and taken, money and his conversation with the captains. At that time, we could not draw a link with the ongoing matches with South Africa,” Singh said.
The phone had been put on interception for a while and in February 2000, the investigators heard a conversation involving Cronje.
“Chawla went to Kochi and he was heard talking about his meeting with the captain. We also found that his location also changed with the team, which meant he was travelling with the players,” Singh said.
“In one conversation after he returned to Delhi, he (Chawla) was heard saying that he was in Taj room number 346, which when we checked was booked in the name of Hansie Cronje. So, now, we could establish a link,” Singh said.
Another Crime Branch officer said the frequency of calls between Cronje and Krishan Kumar, Rajesh Kalra, Sunil Dara (the other two accused in the case) was very high during the matches.
It was between 8 March 2000 and 19 March 2000 that the police found the men were conspiring to fix the matches in connivance with Cronje.
An FIR in the case was then filed under IPC sections dealing with cheating and criminal conspiracy.
Later, Cronje also confessed before the Kings Commission set up in South Africa to probe the case about his role and involvement in the case.
Charge-sheet filed after 13 years
The Delhi Police Crime Branch had filed a charge-sheet in the case almost 13 years after the scandal broke out, the first ever to be delayed for that long.
A charge-sheet is usually filed within three months of the registration of a case.
While the police named Cronje, Chawla, Kalra, another accused Manmohan Khattar, Dara alias Bittu and Kishan Kumar, accusing them of cheating and criminal conspiracy, cricketers Herschelle Gibbs and Nicky Boje were left out.
The charge-sheet said Chawla had played the “most vital role” in the crime.
It said Chawla not only acted as a conduit between the bookies but also fixed matches in connivance with Cronje.
According to the charge-sheet, the first Test match in Mumbai and the first One-Day International in Cochin in 2000 were fixed. This, the police said, resulted in wrongful gain to the accused and wrongful loss in general to the public at large, who had gone to watch the match “believing that they would witness truly competitive matches in which each player would perform optimally”.
The charge-sheet also mentioned that Gibbs had accepted before the Kings Commission of Inquiry in South Africa that he was offered money by Cronje to under-perform, while Boje had denied his involvement altogether.
The police also said they had evidence, including telephonic conversations, to prove the accused had entered into a conspiracy to fix matches played between India and South Africa in February-March 2000.
An inquiry held in South Africa found that Boje and Gibbs also admitted to taking money — $15,000 — for under-performance.
The police also mentioned in the charge-sheet that while Kalra, Kumar and Dara are out on bail in the case, Chawla, the key accused, and Khattar are absconding.
“Manmohan Khattar escaped to the US. Then we got information that he died of cancer. But he could not be traced,” a Crime Branch source said.
Intercepts formed crucial evidence
The most crucial evidence in the case are the intercepts that the Crime Branch recorded while Kumar’s phone, being used by Chawla, was on surveillance.
The intercepts have also been included in the charge-sheet as key evidence against Chawla.
In one of the conversations, Cronje said: “I had a look at pitch today. It can turn big.” Chawla replied: “Is Strydom playing?”
Pieter Strydom is another former Sourth African cricketer.
In another conversation between the two, recorded on 18 March 2000, the two were clearly fixing the game.
Cronje was heard saying: “Ok, I have spoken and yes, everything is fine. Spoken to Gibbs and to Williams and Strydom.”
Chawla replied: “Ok, and how many runs for Gibbs?”
“Less than 20,” Cronje said.
Chawla responded: “So everything is according to the plan. You have to score at least 250.”
“Yeah Sanjeev,” said Cronje. Chawla responded: “And if you score 270. It is off?”
Cronje then asked for money. “And financially the guys want 25. They want 25 each,” Cronje said.
Chawla then said: “Ok, and one last thing, is it possible that you could ask Gibbs to… his wicket… we will score him out and try and score slowly and not so fast so that you know maybe we can get out of it.”
Cronje said: “Ok”.
“We have all these conversations and many more on record. We have also submitted the tapes for the same. It makes for very important evidence as the two can clearly be heard fixing up the game,” the second Crime Branch officer told ThePrint.
The police told a district court in July 2013 that Chawla was suspected to be in London and that they will start the process to extradite him.
“Chawla, a blacklisted bookie, was the main kingpin in the case as we have intercepted conversations between him and Cronje, fixing the match and clearly talking about money. Soon after the case was filed in March 2000, Chawla fled to the UK and had been there since,” the second crime branch officer told ThePrint.
“Chawla also obtained a British passport in 2005,” he said.
After filing the charge-sheet, the Indian authorities started the extradition process and sent a request to the UK, following which Chawla was arrested in London in June 2016.
The process of extradition has been on since 2016.
The UK officials on many occasions have asked Delhi Police for details of security arrangements and facilities in the jail where Chawla will be kept in after he raised concerns about his security and hygiene in Indian jails.
Indian authorities, however, refused an inspection of Indian jails by the UK, saying India is a Human Right Convention signatory and the jails here are in good condition and need not be inspected by an outsider.
The CBI link
After the Delhi Police prepared its detailed report in the case, the Ministry of Sports asked the CBI in July 2000 to probe the larger case of match-fixing. The CBI then initiated a preliminary inquiry (PE) into the case and questioned several bookies, punters who had figured in the Cronje tapes.
The CBI then filed a detailed report in October 2000 but never converted the PE into an FIR.
Based on the CBI findings, the BCCI banned former Indian captain Mohammad Azharuddin, who the report said confessed to fixing games with the help of fellow cricketers Ajay Sharma, Ajay Jadeja and Nayan Mongia, the same month. While Jadeja was banned for five months, Sharma was barred from playing for life.