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'Ravi Sharma not seen for 18 months'

Shyam Bhatia in London | August 26, 2003 21:54 IST

The owner of the Bradford, UK, premises used  by a businessman responsible for a women's cricket team involved in a suspected immigration scam says 57-year-old Ravi Sharma has been bringing cricket teams to Britain, and also Europe, for two years.

Prem Grover said he was introduced to Mr Sharma two years ago and he had occasionally used a back room at his office for his cricket travel business.

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But Mr Grover says he has not seen Sharma for the past 18 months. He said, "He brought cricket teams in from India to tour London, Bradford, Manchester and Europe. They would play and then go back to India.

"He would come into our office and make a few phone calls and ask for my advice on travel fares.

"He would only be in the office for 30 or 40 minutes. In total, he must have used the office for about two weeks and I last saw him 18 months ago.

"I have tried to contact him several times since, without success. I have even called India, where he lives.

"He struck me as a clever man. He would come over every six months with cricket teams. I would very much like to speak to him."

Sharma's home in India has been raided and his wife and son are being sought by police. The chief of police in Jalandhar, Inspector General Joginder Pal Birdi, said earlier, "This is a very serious case which we are working on.

"For some years we have known that people were using wrestling and hockey tours to the UK, America and Canada to side-step immigration regulations. This appears to be the first time cricket has been used."

One women's cricket team brought to the UK by Sharma arrived on August 9 and played two games in Herefordshire but three further games were cancelled after the five players, aged between 19 and 25, vanished.

After their disappearance Sharma claimed the players' parents were involved in an organised scheme for them to stay permanently in Britain.

On Monday, Sharma contacted the Jalandhar police to say two of the missing women had re-surfaced and two others had contacted him through their solicitors to ask for the return of their passports.

But in London a spokesman for Scotland Yard said he had no new information about the missing women and the Home Office says Sharma is still wanted for questioning.

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