The battle for control of the Indian Premier League (IPL) is now headed for the courts. IPL chairman and commissioner Lalit Modi is likely to approach the Bombay High Court on Friday to prevent a meeting of the League's governing council scheduled for Monday.
The meeting has been convened by the Board of Control for Cricket in India (BCCI) secretary N Srinivasan, in the wake of charges of financial irregularities by IPL and its franchises. IPL is a unit of BCCI. It is widely expected that Modi would be asked to step down at the meeting.
Sources close to Modi have questioned the legality of the meeting, saying only Modi, as the IPL head, had the authority to call one. They also said Srinivasan could not convene the meeting as he is part of an IPL franchise and thus has a conflict of interest. BCCI has rejected this argument.
"Whether there is conflict of interest is not an issue because Srinivasan, when this issue had cropped up, had sought the permission of Sharad Pawar, who was the president of the board then," BCCI President Shashank Manohar told reporters today. "Pawar had granted him permission to bid, and it is not Srinivasan who was bidding, it was India Cements which bid." Srinivasan is vice-chairman and managing director of India Cements.
Manohar said while BCCI was aware of Srinivasan's stakes, it was unaware that Modi's relatives and friends had stakes in the franchise and deals. "Srinivasan was a declared bidder. If Modi and his relatives had a share in any of the franchises, he ought to have declared it at the meeting. I was not a member of the governing council then. He ought to have told everybody," he said.
As the probe into the IPL got wider, top officials of the Finance Ministry, Income Tax department and financial intelligence met late in the evening in Delhi to take stock of the situation. According to Press Trust of India, the director-general of I-T investigations in Mumbai briefed senior Central Board of Direct Taxes and Finance Ministry officials about the investigations that are now being carried out across the country on every business associated with IPL.
Earlier in the day, Modi was grilled by the Enforcement Directorate officials twice, while I-T officials surveyed the offices of infrastructure major GMR, which owns Delhi Daredevils, and Sahara group, the owners of the new IPL Pune franchise.
Officials from ED knocked at Modi's Four Seasons Hotel suite door at 8.30 in the morning to question him on the alleged flow of foreign funds into IPL. They then took him to another office at Nirlon House in Worli. Modi was also taken to the offices of IPL franchisee, Mumbai Indians, owned by industrialist Mukesh Ambani at Nariman Point, where he was questioned and documents verified, sources said.
Both last night and today, ED and Income-tax officials have been asking Modi about the broadcasting rights of IPL, after it emerged that a "facilitation fee" of $80 million was paid by Multi Screen Media (MSM) to World Sports Group (WSG) to re-acquire the telecast rights of the league. Questions were asked about the payment of a portion of the facilitation fee by MSM to an off-shore company of WSG in Mauritius, a tax haven, allegedly without paying income tax on the transactions in India, sources familiar with the development said.
On Wednesday, tax sleuths had swooped down on offices of four IPL franchisees--Kolkata Knight Riders, Chennai Super Kings, Deccan Chargers and Kings XI. In Kolkata, tax sleuths claimed to have found some "incriminating" documents during searches at the offices of Kolkata Knight Riders and Cricket Association of Bengal, which went on till 1 am on Thursday.
On another front, the Nationalist Congress Party claimed it had warned Modi six months ago to mend fences with those around him "and stop violating rules and regulations". One of Modi's mentors --NCP chief Sharad Pawar-- directed one of his spokesmen, D P Tripathi (who confessed disarmingly that he was holding a press conference at the express instructions of his party chief) to clarify that neither Pawar nor his family had anything to do with Modi or IPL.
NCP sources said nearly six months ago, Pawar had actually warned Modi about his 'arrogance' in relation to other IPL franchisees and counselled him to follow 'rules and regulations'. Tripathi dismissed reports that Poorna, the daughter of NCP leader and Pawar's right hand man Praful Patel, had acted as a facilitator between Lalit Modi, Praful Patel and Shashi Tharoor. NCP also said there was no reason for Pawar and Patel to emulate Tharoor and resign from the government while a probe was on in so many of the enterprises they had mentored. NCP sources said Lalit Modi had been involved in several questionable enterprises when he was advisor to the Rajasthan government a few years ago.
That the NCP had decided to collectively take a tough line was clear from the statement of Pawar's daughter, who is also a member of Parliament, Supriya Sule. Referring to reports that her husband Sadanand held proxy rights in MSM (formerly Sony Entertainment Television, engaged to vest telecast rights of IPL matches) on behalf of his father B R Sule, she said her husband would take legal action against those who were engaged in an unsubstantiated campaign that the Pawar family stood to gain from IPL through Lalit Modi.