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|Gangsters behind illegal betting on world cricket
| Andrew Culf,
Declan Walsh in Islamabad Saturday March 24, 2007
Bob Woolmer's death has cast a spotlight on the
murky but lucrative world of sports betting on the sub-continent, with
suspicions that a betting syndicate could have been involved in his
Gambling is banned in
Pakistan, but it is a major underground industry run by a network of bookmakers
with links to syndicates in India and Dubai.
Prospective gamblers call
their bookmaker on his mobile, using the reference of a friend or relative. The
odds quoted are less favourable than those in the UK or in Mumbai. Punters have
little choice - Pakistani credit cards are banned from major internet gambling
Winnings are collected and
losses paid through money changers. "It all works through intermediaries," said
a Karachi businessman. "I've never actually met my bookie. I have no idea what
he looks like."
One well known bookmaker is the brother of a famous
former player who has faced match-fixing allegations. The trade is extremely
lucrative. Some bookmakers are connected to organised crime figures such as
Dawood Ibrahim, a notorious mobster on Interpol's most wanted list. Powerful
criminal syndicates are said to dangle huge sums before players to swing
results of games.
Former Pakistani bowler Sarfraz Nawaz claimed
Woolmer was murdered because he was about to expose a match-fixing scandal.
Indian gangster Babloo Srivastava appeared on TV, en route to a court
appearance on an unrelated murder charge, claiming Ibrahim was behind the
killing. "The Pakistan-Ireland match must have been fixed. The D-company
[Ibrahim's gang] may have lots of money at stake," he said. "Woolmer may have
got an inkling of the fixing and so he was killed." Srivastasa's claims are
unsubstantiated. But the Indian authorities have long suspected that Ibrahim,
wanted in connection with the bombings in Mumbai that killed 200 people in
1993, has been involved in match-fixing.
The cricketing authorities
were forced to react to the scandal in 2000 involving former South African
captain Hanse Cronje, who admitted accepting $130,000 (£66,550) to fix
matches. The International Cricket Council established its anti-corruption and
security unit (ACSU), and retired Metropolitan police commissioner Lord Condon
produced a devastating report which concluded match-fixing was rife.
Since then cricket has tried hard to clean-up its act: Cronje, before
he died in a plane crash, was banned for life; his team mates, Herschelle Gibbs
and Henry Williams, received six-month bans.
Others punished included
India's Mohammad Azharuddin and Ajay Sharma, who received life bans, although
Azharuddin's was lifted, as did Pakistan's Salim Malik and Ata-ur-Rehman,
although the latter's was also lifted.
Security measures were put in
place, with CCTV cameras trained on dressing rooms, and a ban on players using
mobiles during matches.
Yesterday Lord Condon said cricket had
responded robustly to his report.
"I do not think match-fixing is the
problem that it was," he told Radio 5 Live. "Nevertheless, there are some very
unsavoury people involved in seeking to fix matches, or parts of matches."
Suspicion has continued to swirl around the game. The ACSU is
investigating Marlon Samuels, a West Indies batsman, over an alleged attempt to
pass information to an illegal bookmaker during a one-day international. The
authorities have a taped conversation between Samuels and alleged bookmaker
Mukesh Kochar, who Indian police say is a known associate of Ibrahim. Police
said there was no evidence money had changed hands. Samuels denied wrongdoing.
As Pakistan prepared to play Ireland, one gambler was offered odds of
50-1 for a shock upset, while another had heard figures of 95-1.
Betting on international cricket on the
sub-continent involves millions of rupees, with money placed on the outcome of
a game and on a multitude of possibilities during it. These are much easier for
bookmakers to manipulate because they only require the involvement of one or
two players. Known as "fancy fixings", they are difficult for the authorities
to police because of the huge number of one-day internationals played. The
anti-corruption unit watches for unusual betting patterns and analyses the
tapes of suspicious matches, but with many of the bets placed anonymously on
the internet or via mobile phone, they are difficult to monitor.