IPL chief suspended amid corruption claims

Indian cricket authorities suspended the head and driving force behind the money-spinning Indian Premier League on Monday in a bid to stem an escalating crisis involving tax and match-fixing allegations.

After a week of intense speculation that IPL boss Lalit Modi faced the axe, the news came just hours after the final of a tournament he built into a multi-billion-dollar industry.

A statement from the president of the Board of Control for Cricket in India (BCCI), which owns the IPL, said Modi had been suspended with immediate effect and been given two weeks to prove his innocence.

“The alleged acts of individual misdemeanours of Mr Lalit K. Modi, chairman IPL and vice president BCCI, have brought a bad name to the administration of cricket and the game itself,” said a statement from president Shashank Manohar.

The governing council of the BCCI held an emergency meeting in Mumbai on Monday without Modi. Members filed into the Wankhede Stadium in front of a scrum of press photographers and television cameras.

The seeds of Modi’s downfall were sown two weeks ago when he revealed the ownership details of a new franchise set to join the glitzy and globally popular IPL in 2011.

‘Minister forced to resign’
In one of his numerous postings on micro-blogging site Twitter, he embarrassed a high-profile member of the government, junior foreign minister Shashi Tharoor, by leaking how Tharoor’s girlfriend had been given a free stake in the new team.

Under pressure from the opposition, which accused Tharoor of misusing his office to secure benefit for himself, the minister was forced to resign, embarrassing the Congress-led government.

Since then, the finance ministry has launched a wide-ranging tax probe into the IPL, the BCCI and its franchise owners — powerful business and Bollywood figures — and many blame Modi for bringing the tax man to their door.

The investigation has sparked a media frenzy, with daily leaks — though nothing has been proved so far — about Modi’s unpaid tax liabilities, general corruption and kickbacks and even possible match-fixing.

Result rigging is a particularly dangerous slur on the subcontinent after federal investigators unearthed widespread illegal betting and corruption by Indian bookmakers and some leading players in 2000.

“I have waited for IPL 2010 to conclude in order to respond to the situation as I did not want the event to be disrupted in any manner,” added Manohar in his statement.

‘Hanged without trial’
The suspension caused waves around India and dominated cable television news bulletins. “Modi all but hanged without trial,” read a headline on the Times of India website.

The 2010 version of the annual IPL tournament finished with a drama-filled final in front of 50 000 fans on Sunday who saw the Chennai Super Kings beat favourites Mumbai Indians in their home city.

Modi, 46, has been defiant in recent days, but he cut an increasingly isolated figure amid pressure from the government and ebbing support among his cricket contemporaries.

On Sunday night, he sat smiling from his executive seat as he watched the final and later spoke to the capacity crowd during the prize-giving ceremony.

“On this occasion, I assure millions of passionate fans of the league and the game across the globe that the IPL is clean and transparent,” he said.

“We should not allow this brand to be diluted and we will not.”

On Twitter, he has threatened to “reveal the men who have tried to bring disrepute to the game” after the end of the tournament.

A brash figure and a fan of the high-life, Modi was virtually unknown outside cricket circles until five years ago when he was made the youngest ever vice-president of the BCCI.

Three years later, the BCCI’s revenues had tripled after Modi launched the IPL, featuring the world’s top cricketers playing a shortened, made-for-TV format of the game.

Before launching the first tournament in 2008, the IPL organisers studied the English Premier League football tournament and sought to emulate its mix of high-profile overseas stars, homegrown talent and foreign coaches.

The IPL then went a step further by bringing in a host of A-list celebrities from the only thing that rivals cricket as a India’s national obsession — the film industry.

Three Bollywood superstars — Shah Rukh Khan, Preity Zinta and Shilpa Shetty — own IPL teams. — AFP

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