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June 30, 2000


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Sinless in Sun City

Faisal Shariff in Bombay

Amisha Patel On June 26, the mysterious Hamid Cassim, in his testimony before the King Commission investigating match-fixing in South Africa, admitted to have organised tickets for actress Amisha Patel, the female interest in the Hindi blockbuster, Kaho Naa Pyaar Hai, for the India versus South Africa Test in Bombay. He claimed she and her brother, Ashmit, asked him to organise tickets for them to see the Test at the Wankhede stadium this year.

'Banjo,' as Hamid Cassim is also called, claimed he spoke to South African allrounder Lance Klusener, asking him to arrange for the tickets.

In his testimony, he went on to claim that since he knew so many cricketers, friends would come to him and plead for tickets to the games.

Ashmit Patel, Amisha's brother, told that he met Cassim in South Africa in February, but denied that he requested him for the tickets.

"It isn't quite like that. I am a member of the MCA (Mumbai Cricket Association). I could have arranged for the tickets. 'Banjo' called me up from South Africa and asked me if I was going for the game in Bombay. I told him I might go if I could get the tickets. He insisted he would arrange for the tickets and asked me to meet Lance Klusener at the Taj hotel to pick the tickets."

"My sister has nothing to do with this at all. She doesn't know anything about cricket. Renu introduced us in South Africa."

Pavan Kalyan and Amisha Patel "We (Amisha and Ashmit) had gone to South Africa for the shooting of Badri, a south Indian film starring Pavan Kalyan (Chiranjeevi's younger brother) in the lead. Renu Desai, a co-star in the movie and Pavan's fiancee, introduced us to Cassim," Ashmit Patel said.

Renu Desai supposedly was referred to 'Banjo' by Dr Ali Irani, the former physiotherapist to the Indian cricket team, when she was in India. Desai was unavailable for comment.

Amit Patel, Amisha's father, said his daughter accepted a cellular phone with a pay-on-the-go card from 'Banjo' while she was in South Africa, but it was only used for local calls. In his testimony, 'Banjo' claimed he also got Desai a card and a cellular phone while she was in South Africa.

"No one in my family is a cricket fanatic and Amisha is completely clueless about the game. No one in my family gambles. I don't even go to the Derby. I don't know the front side of a horse from the rear," Amit Patel quipped.

Speaking to on the telephone from Dalhousie, where she is currently shooting for a film, Amisha Patel said she met 'Banjo' on February 3. She claimed that Desai had asked her to get in touch with 'Banjo.'

"She told me that Hamid Cassim was a very good friend of hers and she wanted me to get in touch with him. I have no clue how she knew him," she added.

Pavan Kalyan and Renu Desai "I accepted the mobile phone from Hamid Cassim when we met on Thursday evening in my hotel room. I was with my brother and mother. We refused to accept the phone at first, but he said he had organised a phone for Renu as well when she was in Johannesburg. We were supposed to go shopping the next day. Hamid offered to take us shopping. It being a Friday, 'Banjo' and his friend Ahmed had to go for namaaz. He insisted I accept the mobile phone so we could be in touch.

We were supposed to go to Sun City, Hamid told us it would be unsafe to go alone to Sun City. I returned the SIM card on Friday night. It was only used for local calls. I met 'Banjo' for just those two days and he came across as a great guy. We thought he was being so friendly because of the star status involved. As an obligation I also signed a compact disc of Kaho Naa.. for him.

"About the tickets for the game in Bombay, I am hearing it from you right now. Why would we call him up in South Africa for tickets, when we are members of the MCA ourselves? I was not even in Bombay when the match took place. I was out of the city shooting. I am the last person who is interested in cricket. I don't even know who the captain of the Indian team is."

We just knew he was friendly with some cricketers but not once did we suspect anything shady about him. He was having some problems with his wife and he kept talking about how he loved his wife so much. He seemed to be a very family-oriented man and since I was with my mom and brother, I had nothing to fear about being with him."

Excerpts from the transcript of Hamid Cassim 'Banjo:'

MR WITZ: (Cassim's lawyer) And in regard to the games, if I can go back one step, the games that were played in India, did you ever speak to any of the South African players, in particular relating to the question of tickets? Who requested tickets and who did you speak to to arrange tickets and for whom, please?

MR CASSIM: I spoke to Lance Klusener, I spoke to Hansie. Regarding Lance Klusener I needed tickets for the actress, Amisha Patel. She and her brother wanted to go and watch the one-day, it was a test match I think in Bombay that they needed tickets for and I arranged tickets with Lance Klusener.

MR WITZ: That's the very attractive young lady of whom you have a picture with, when she was here in South Africa, is that the same person?

MR CASSIM: Yes....

MR WITZ: Now just tell the Commissioner what is the secret, if there is any secret about speaking to a player in order to get tickets, why can't your friends or associates or people just go to the normal computicket or go to the normal ground and purchase a ticket? What type of tickets do you get from the player? What is the attraction of the tickets, if you can just tell us please?

MR CASSIM: The tickets you get from the players are under cover and it's in the grandstand, it's a very good ticket and it's very difficult to get tickets for the one-day matches so the players always have spare tickets, and knowing that I have the contact with the players a lot of my friends will come to me and say, "Banjo, please organise us tickets". And something I've learnt today is to say "no".

MR WITZ: Now Mr Cassim in regard to these tickets. You make the people aware your friends, associates, these actresses etc who actually the ticket is coming from that it's actually coming from a South African Test player or an international player or would he just give it to them as a ticket? What do you tell them?

MR CASSIM: I would tell them from which player it comes from.

MS BATOHI:(Deputy public prosecutor) Mr Cassim, this number 83674 1416 is a cellphone number, which we gave to your counsel and asked him to ask you whether you knew whose number that was. Can you tell me whose number that is? We got some vague reply from you. Can you tell me, now having thought about it for quite a while, I think it's about a week or so, whose number is that, 83764 1416? Sorry, I beg your pardon?

MR CASSIM: It's a pre-paid card.

MS BATOHI: We've established that. It is a pay-as-you-go card. How do you know that?

MR CASSIM: Those two actresses were here from India and I gave both of them pre-paid cards. One to Renu and one to Amisha.

MS BATOHI: But this is your number.

MR CASSIM: Sorry? It's my number.

MS BATOHI: That's my question, Mr Cassim. This is your number, it's your phone number.

MR CASSIM: Yes, I bought the pre-paid cards and I gave them the cards, and I gave them phones to use.

MS BATOHI: And you kept those cards after they'd left and you used it?

MR CASSIM: I've kept the one, and the one I've destroyed.

MS BATOHI: I am not interested in the other one, I'm talking about the one number that I gave you. You kept that and you used it, is that correct?

MR CASSIM: That's correct.

MS BATOHI: ...calls to Mr Chawla on that phone? Or received calls from him on that phone?

MR CASSIM: I think so.

MS BATOHI: You said you destroyed one of the cards. What was the number of that one?

MR CASSIM: The one that I destroyed, I don't - can't remember the number, but I will tell you the day this came out I phoned Sanjay and I told him, 'What were you up to?' I called him from this - I - it was one of the pre-paid cards, I don't recall the number, but I phoned him and I said, 'Sanjay, what were you up to? You actually lied to me what you were doing.'

MS BATOHI: What did he say?

MR CASSIM: He had no answer for me, and from that day I've never, ever contacted Sanjay, and I wish to state categorically that if I ever get hold of Sanjay, I feel him sorry.

7.7 Dr Ali Irani had given my number to a famous Indian actress, Rino Desai, who had come to South Africa. The actress who was also interested in cricket was told that I had a very good relationship with the cricket players and she wished to meet the crickets players, including the captain, Hansie Cronjé.

7.8 This was during the time of the Triangular Series between South Africa and England and Zimbabwe and the One-day internationals were due to start. I took Rino Desai to the Wanderers and I introduced her to Mr Hansie Cronjé whom she wanted to meet.

Just regarding to 7.7, Dr Ali Irani would give - when anybody comes to South Africa and of the Indian people he would always give my number and say, "Hamid this is a brother of mine, this is a good personal friend of mine, please look after them". Because Dr Ali Irani knew that was my nature.

MR WITZ: Now is it correct that during the time of the Triangular Series, that was between South Africa, England and Zimbabwe, and these were the One-day internationals which were about to start, you took this famous Indian actress Rino Desai, to the Wanderers, to the nets where the South African team were practising. Just tell the Commissioner a little bit about this and what happened there that particular day or that afternoon.

MR CASSIM: That particular day when I took Rino to the Wanderers the South African cricket team was practising at their nets. I introduced her to Jonty Rhodes, to Lance Klusener, Herschelle Gibbs, Craig Smith, if I can recall, Kallis, Pollock, but she was most interested in Hansie Cronjé and Jonty Rhodes.

MR WITZ: Now after the introduction and after you spoke to Mr Cronjé, together with the actress certain conversation took place and this was basically a day or two after the Centurion, the test that's been referred to in this Commission, the final test match in this particular series. Just tell the Commissioner what happened there, what was the tenure of the conversation.

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