"IPL has turned out to be a huge scam. I think the worst ever, the biggest ever"


May 31, 2009
"IPL has turned out to be a huge scam. I think the worst ever, the biggest ever"

IPL money-laundering scandal threatens Indian government

Opposition party BJP calls for ministers' resignations as Lalit Modi, chief executive of Indian Premier League, questioned

Lalit Modi, IPL's chief executive, is expected to be asked to resign on Monday. Photograph: Gianluigi Guercia/AFP

A cricketing scandal in India looked set to turn into a full-blown political crisis today, as senior opposition political figures sought to exploit what they say is ministers' "misuse of power" before a crucial parliamentary vote next week.
The main opposition party, the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), called on two government ministers to resign following allegations of conflicts of interest and demanded an independent parliamentary investigation. The parliamentary session was briefly suspended amid rowdy scenes.
The sporting scandal, which revolves around alleged tax evasion, possible betting and misuse of political influence in the multibillion pound Indian Premier League (IPL), has already claimed one minister who was forced to give up his post when it became known that a close female friend had a stake in a newly-created team.
"A lot of people, including people in the government, are neck deep in this scam. [The] IPL has turned out to be a huge scam. I think the worst ever, the biggest ever in this country," said Yashwant Sinha, a BJP member of parliament.
Sharad Yadav, from a smaller opposition party, called the IPL a "den of thieves". Lalit Modi, the flamboyant chief executive of the IPL, was questioned for several hours by investigators from tax and foreign exchange authorities today. Modi denies all wrongdoing and has said he is happy to co-operate with any inquiries.
However, the position of the controversial businessman and sports administrator, who is credited with creating a tournament now estimated to be worth more than £2.6bn, is increasingly fragile. Modi, 46, is expected to be told to resign at a meeting of Indian cricketing authorities on Monday.
An Indian news magazine today claimed that phone conversations between Modi and Sharad Pawar, the agriculture minister and Modi's main protector and sponsor, had been tapped by intelligence agents on the orders of the government.
Outlook said that the operation was one of many carried out in recent years against senior politicians, a charge that sparked immediate outrage from politicians and journalists.
The offices of a series of IPL teams, many of which are owned by Bollywood stars and corporate tycoons, have been raided by tax authorities in recent days, leading commentators to compare the scandal with the last such affair in Indian cricket: the match-fixing scandal of 2000.
Pawar is among those targeted by the opposition. A former president of the Board of Control for Cricket in India and a key political ally of the ruling Congress party, he is accused of improperly using his office to influence bids for IPL contracts, a charge he denies.
A second minister is accused of diverting a passenger plane from the national carrier Air India for use by IPL players.
India has been transfixed by the affair, which has dominated headlines all week and put the government of Manmohan Singh on the defensive, days ahead of a parliamentary confidence motion over high fuel prices. Though the coalition government, elected last year, is expected by analysts to survive as few politicians currently want to see a new election, Singh has looked out of touch.
Harish Khare, political editor of The Hindu newspaper said that any damage the scandal could cause to the government was limited.
"The IPL is a private enterprise that is having some doubtful moments. The government still have the numbers [in parliament]," Khare said.
The IPL is now coming to the end of its third season and remains immensely popular. An astonishing spectacle with three-hour, Twenty20 (20-over) games featuring world-class players paid hundreds of thousands of dollars and cheerleaders paid considerably less. It has created a huge fanbase that cuts across caste, class and culture.
Sachin Tendulkar, the international cricketing star and captain of IPL team the Mumbai Indians, described recent events as "rough patches". "Life is not always a smooth journey ... I am sure cricket will overcome all those hurdles," he told an Indian television channel.