After Gurunath Meiyappan and the Chennai Super Kings, and Raj Kundra and the Rajasthan Royals, it is Sundar Raman's turn to be in the gunsights. The chief operating officer of the Indian Premier League is being investigated by a team supervised by the Supreme Court.
The Justice Mukul Mudgal committee, which probed the spot-fixing in IPL 6, observed that Raman had links with a bookie and that he did not act despite being alerted about “suspicious activities” in CSK and RR. The committee, however, did not formally indict him.
Raman later filed an affidavit in the Supreme Court denying allegations of misdemeanour. On July 14, Justice R.N. Lodha, former chief justice of India, chaired a committee which pronounced the quantum of punishment for those involved in the spot-fixing. Raman's fate is expected to be decided in “a matter of days”.
Raman has been synonymous with controversy ever since he took over as COO of IPL in 2008. He was hand-picked from a media agency by Lalit Modi, IPL's founding commissioner. Raman survived the coup of 2010, which saw Modi being ousted. In fact, the IPL COO was most powerful under the new BCCI chairman, N. Srinivasan. As Srinivasan's star waxed in Indian and international cricket, so did Raman's. Then, the storm broke.
In January, while giving their final orders on the spot-fixing case, Justices T.S. Thakur and F.M.I. Kalifulla of the Supreme Court said, “We are not inclined to let the allegations made against Sundar Raman go un-probed, even if it means a further investigation by the investigating team provided to the [Lodha] committee, or by any other means.”
The sleuths are probing two angles in Raman's case: 1) Whether he had been in constant touch with Vindoo Dara Singh, an accused in the IPL spot-fixing case, and, 2) whether Raman failed to act when the International Cricket Council's Anti-Corruption and Security Unit (ACSU) tipped him off about the possible involvement of multiple team owners in the spot-fixing scandal.
Raman was first grilled by B.B. Mishra, the first chief of the ten-member investigation team. After Mishra's retirement, Vivek Priyadarshi of the CBI took over. A non-IPS superintendent of police, Priyadarshi's previous investigations include the 2G scam and Coalgate, both done under the supervision of the Supreme Court. He has also been co-opted into the team probing the Vyapam scam in Madhya Pradesh.
Sources said Mishra put Raman through two-hour-long interrogation sessions. No physical coercion. But, the interrogators were seasoned hands from the white-collar crime team.
Mishra and Co were warned that Raman would be a tough nut to crack. Reportedly, when grilled about a particular incident, Raman countered by asking them who had complained against him. However, under pressure, the “smart, shrewd, confident fellow” allegedly admitted to making two mistakes.
He allegedly accepted that Y.P. Singh, former head of the ACSU, had informed him about shady activity in the IPL. Raman's submission before the Supreme Court was that the information was conveyed verbally, and, hence, was non-actionable. Apparently, Raman told the sleuths that he should have followed up on the ACSU's tip.
Interestingly, after this tip-off, there was a strong move to sack Y.P. Singh during the ICC World T20 Championship in Bangladesh in 2013. An ICC source said that the move, allegedly initiated by Srinivasan and Raman, fell through “because Singh would have exposed the duo.”
The BCCI's own anti-corruption unit was founded in 2012 by Ravi Sawani, a former head of the ACSU. But, Sawani had the reputation of being close to Srinivasan. So, he stepped down in June, and former Delhi police commissioner Neeraj Kumar took over. Incidentally, Kumar had investigated the IPL match-fixing allegations in 2000.
Sources said Raman shrugged off responsibility when asked about Vindoo's presence in the premium boxes and at post-match parties. Investigators find it difficult to believe that Raman did not know about Vindoo, whose name featured in the match-fixing scandal of 2000. In 2010, too, Raman had pleaded ignorance before investigators that probed the issue.
“If Meiyappan was found guilty of betting and knowing Vindoo, then the same principle will be applied to Raman,” a source said. “He cannot pass the buck saying someone else was in charge of the guest list.” A highly placed investigator said, “The court has actually made the brief easy for us and difficult for Raman.”
Sources suggest that investigators are probing eight specific instances of communication between Raman and Vindoo. The problem in corroborating phone calls arises when, after a missed call or a brief call from an alleged bookie, the conversation shifts to WhatsApp, the preferred platform of punters now.
Whether he is guilty or not, one thing is clear—Raman's wings are being clipped. His influence is being restricted to the IPL, unlike in the Srinivasan years when he rode roughshod over BCCI officials. Raman would often fly to Chennai to meet Srinivasan and then return to the BCCI headquarters and pass messages to various officials. The board under Jagmohan Dalmiya has been firm—those not on the board should not be present at meetings. Employees must wait outside. They will be summoned, if required.
The BCCI was under fire for mollycoddling an employee under investigation. The last straw was Raman's presence at the IPL governing council held after the Lodha committee report came out. BCCI secretary Anurag Thakur clarified the board's stand on Raman: “There is no verdict against him. There is an inquiry going on. When we took over, an inquiry was on against two IPL teams, too. We waited for the verdict of the Lodha committee. [Raman] is an employee of the board. The governing council will take decisions, his job is to implement them.”
A highly placed source said that in the recent IPL governing council meeting Raman interrupted Jyotiraditya Scindia, president of the Madhya Pradesh Cricket Association. An irate Scindia asked him to speak only when spoken to. Scindia reminded him that he was just a board employee. Reportedly, several other board members have found their voices and have been putting the IPL COO in his place.
Raman has often been described as “rude, bullying and arrogant”. He allegedly made the going tough for a marketing official of the BCCI and ICC, and even called up his wife and used poor language with her. The buzz is that after being ticked off by the BCCI bosses, he has started greeting board and IPL staff.
In 2010, Raman revoked the accreditation of Sunil Valson, a Delhi Daredevils official and former India international. This, after he allegedly abused Valson. The entire Delhi cricket fraternity was then up in arms over Raman's high-handed ways.
Raman used to represent the BCCI at ICC meetings in Dubai, and he has been known to hector and threaten council staff, even reducing one to tears. He was one of the key negotiators representing the ICC's Big 3—India, Australia and England. The negotiators had flexed their muscles to ensure that all members accepted the new revenue model and the new future tours programme. Reportedly, Raman threatened dissenting members with dire consequences.
To put an end to Raman's days at the ICC, Thakur has ordered that no one should travel for any ICC meeting without his or Dalmiya's consent. Raman's last ICC meeting was the one held in Barbados in early July.
Journalists, too, were not spared by Raman. Reportedly, he called a very senior journalist who had reported on the IPL scandals and demanded that the phrase “IPL mess” be deleted from the copy. Others were sent rude text messages. To force reporters to retract news, he threatened them with cancellation of accreditation.
Once upon a time, when top BCCI administrators met BCCI employees, they would say, “Make sure Raman does not get to know we met.” Those days are over. And, maybe it is a sign of the times: Raman has reportedly moved his family to Chennai from Mumbai.