New Delhi: The Board for Control of Cricket in India (BCCI) seemingly tied itself up in knots yesterday as the Supreme Court said it would probe the validity of BCCI's rule 6.2.4 under which conflict of interest is permissible.
IS Bindra and N Srinivasan
The world's richest cricket board had earlier argued that there was nothing wrong in a board official owning a team in the Indian Premier League (IPL), especially when the then board president, Sharad Pawar, had cleared the request and that the BCCI had ratified the issue of conflict of interest in its constitution.
But what was embarrassing for BCCI was the fact that the ratification — it was highlighted by the rival lawyers — happened at a BCCI working committee meeting months after the team, Chennai Super Kings, was acquired by N Srinivasan.
"Isn't this a violation?" asked IS Bindra, former BCCI president, who has also decided to depose against Srinivasan.
Worse, the BCCI also found itself at the losers end as its high profile team of counsels, led by former telecom minister Kapil Sibal, were in a not so comfortable position vis a vis a reference to the FIH (World Hockey Federation) and how such dual ownership was common in bodies like FIH and also FIFA.
But FIH countered it, arguing it requires its officials to make their interests formally known under the world body's "Conflict of Interest Policy and Guidelines".
Interestingly, the special bench of Justice TS Thakur and FM Kalifullah had refused to accept the FIH rules as a line of defence against the conflict of interest issue.
But the day's biggest salvo was reserved for Sundar Raman, the former IPL big boss, whom the BCCI had stoutly defended against charges that he was in touch with a bookie and aware that some team owners were into illegal betting.
The country's apex court showed no mercy and slammed V Giri, counsel for Raman, for what it called the IPL CEO's neglecting his duties.
"What were you doing, watching the fun? It seems because of your job profile, you were only interested in serving VVIPs," the judges retorted.
The judges further asked Giri as to why his client did not pay heeds to the warnings sent by ICC ACSU head YP Singh about team owners indulging in betting.
Giri said Singh's claims lacked evidence. "You knew (the) role of officials in betting, you did nothing despite the knowledge, was it like putting your job at stake?"
Justice Thakur asked Giri, "Is there any record in betting? Do they keep cash books or ledgers? Someone calls and says, ABC is betting, what will you ask? You will say you need actionable information?" Justice Kalifullah then asked Giri whether he had not deemed it right to register a complaint with his employers.
"When the complaint was about betting, did it not occur to you that you should gather more information and seek guidance from anyone else in BCCI? Why did you not do it? Why did you not put it down in writing in a report to BCCI?"
Kallifullah told Giri very sternly: "You have done nothing. You are only looking after celebrities and just watching the fun."
The million dollar question staring in the face of BCCI was this: If the ICC's anti-corruption unit's head cannot be believed, who would the BCCI officials trust? Worse, didn't the ICC Board meeting list comments by Singh wherein he had said there were "people with suspected identity moving around as owners"? So why didn't Raman probe what Singh wrote?
Giri still argued his client was doing "his job dutifully".
The judges countered instantly, asking if that was the case, how come he was in constant touch with Vindoo Dara Singh, a person arrested and questioned on charges of illegal betting.
A bit of fireworks in the court was also reserved for Kundra's counsel Shekhar Nephade, who argued for approximately 45 minutes that action could only be taken against his client under the BCCI rules, saying since the Mudgal committee was not formed under the BCCI rules, the court could not go by its findings and that his client should be allowed to cross question the report.
Justice Thakur's counter was almost instant: "You are saying that even if there are problems (in Indian cricket), the court should not intervene."
Arguments would conclude tomorrow.