Kapil Dev is target of Indian tax detectives

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The Independent Online

Investigators raided the homes and offices of some of Indian cricket's leading figures, including the former captains Mohammed Azharuddin and Kapil Dev, yesterday.

Investigators raided the homes and offices of some of Indian cricket's leading figures, including the former captains Mohammed Azharuddin and Kapil Dev, yesterday.

In the latest twist to a match-fixing scandal triggered by the resignation in April of the South African captain Hansie Cronje, morning raids were carried out in several Indian cities.

The visits were carried out by income tax officials, seeking evidence of hidden wealth and working with detectives from the Central Bureau of Investigation. The offices of suspected bookmakers and a television sports magnate were also raided.

The country's junior finance minister, Dhananjay Kumar, provided details of the operations, which took place at 86 premises and said more raids were likely today. "We started the raids after getting precise evidence," Kumar said.

When asked to name those whose premises were searched, Kumar replied: "Kapil Dev, Azharuddin, Ajay Jadeja, Nayan Mongia, Nikhil Chopra, Jagmohan Dalmiya, P M Rungta." He said residences belonging to the wives of both Kapil Dev and Azharuddin had also been searched.

Kapil Dev, who now coaches the national team, Azharuddin, who still plays, and Dalmiya, who recently stepped down as president of the game's governing board, the International Cricket Council, have all denied allegations of any involvement in the match fixing scandal. P M Rungta is an official of the Board of Control for Cricket in India, where the offices were also raided.

Kumar also said searches were conducted at the offices of Mark Mascarenhas, the head of the television company Worldtel, which also acts as the promoter for several cricketers.

The Indian government ordered the CBI to look into match-fixing allegations following revelations by Cronje. Cronje told a South African commission that Azharuddin introduced him to a bookmaker during an India-South Africa Test series in India in 1996. Azharuddin denied this.

"In Delhi alone we are searching 36 places," Swarup Parija, director-general of investigations in the income tax department, said.

A tax official told reporters after stepping out of Kapil Dev's home in South Delhi: "Inside there are income tax people. How many there are I don't know."

In Hyderabad teams of investigators searched Azharuddin's home in the city and his farmhouse on the outskirts. About 100 investigators were involved in the raids in cities including New Delhi, Ahmedabad, Bombay, Calcutta, Chandigarh, Bangalore and Hyderabad, officials said.

By the end of the day, officials were confident their swoop had netted results. "Incriminating material on paper and on computer floppies has been identified and are being scrutinised," P K Sarma, director general of Income Tax (investigations), Bombay, said in a statement.

"One of the major bookies said to be involved in the betting scam has also been searched and investigations are in progress," Sarma added.

In April, Delhi police charged Cronje and three team-mates with "cheating, fraud and criminal conspiracy". Cronje was sacked after he admitted taking money from bookmakers, which triggered investigations into match-fixing throughout the cricketing world. Cronje is reported to have cancelled a trip to London for fear he would be arrested and extradited to India, where police want to question him.

Cronje was reportedly scheduled to meet with his agent, Max Clifford, but was advised to remain in South Africa at the last minute by his lawyer Leslie Sackstein, who warned that if he travelled to any cricket-playing nation outside of India, he would likely be subpoenaed by police. "This is the same situation as General Pinochet was in," Clifford said. "It is important it is sorted out as the world's media wants to talk with him."

The publishers Collins-Willow are seeking to print Cronje's account of the episode. The South African is reportedly asking £250,000 pounds for his story.