'Incriminating' documents seized

Tax investigators wound up a two-day search of the homes and offices of leading Indian cricketers yesterday after sealing some bank lockers and seizing documents that could be incriminating, officials said.

Tax investigators wound up a two-day search of the homes and offices of leading Indian cricketers yesterday after sealing some bank lockers and seizing documents that could be incriminating, officials said.

The raids were the latest chapter in a match-fixing scandal that has embarrassed cricket over the past few months.

"All the searches were over early morning [yesterday]. Some lockers have been sealed. They'll be opened on Monday or Tuesday," a senior income tax official, who asked not to be named, said. Asked if investigators had seized evidence that could show wrongdoing by players or cricket officials, the official said: "Some documents are incriminating", but did not give other details.

Kapil Dev, India's national team coach, and the former captain, Mohammad Azharuddin, were among those targeted in the hunt for evidence of undisclosed income which began on Thursday.

Officials visited 84 offices, including 36 in Delhi, in searches which were triggered by a series of revelations that surfaced after New Delhi police accused the former South Africa captain, Hansie Cronje, and three of his team-mates of "cheating, fraud and criminal conspiracy" during a one-day series in India last March.

A C Muthiah, the president of the Board of Control for Cricket in India, said he welcomed the raids but called for an early end to the crisis. "If the guilty have to be punished, the innocent should not be harassed. The department should come out with the truth at the earliest, so the game of cricket does not suffer," he said.

Tax officials said they had seized evidence of undisclosed income, but stressed that match-fixing is criminal in nature and is being investigated separately by the police, who helped co-ordinate the raids.

Cronje has denied match-fixing, but admitted taking money from bookmakers in exchange for information. He was sacked as South African captain in April.

Later, he told a government inquiry in South Africa that Azharuddin introduced him to a bookmaker when South Africa played a Test series in India in 1996. Azharuddindenies this.

The Indian government ordered the Central Bureau of Investigation to look into match-fixing allegations following Cronje's revelations.

Besides Kapil Dev and Azharuddin, others who had their premises searched included the Test players, Ajay Jadeja and Nikhil Chopra, the former International Cricket Council president, Jagmohan Dalmiya, the Indian cricket board official, P M Rungta, and Mark Mascarenhas, head of a television company and promoter for several cricketers.

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