Instances of match fixing unearthed by the Bengaluru Police Crime Branch in 2019 in an investigation into alleged corruption involving cricketers and team management in the Karnataka Premier League (KPL) T20 cricket tournament does not amount to fraud, the Karnataka Supreme Court ruled as it quashed charges against three players and a KPL team official.
A single judge bench of Justice Sreenivas Harish Kumar ordered the quashing of charges filed against former Karnataka cricket captain, CM Gautam, two players Abrar Kazi and Amit Mavi and Belagavi Panthers team owner Asfak Ali Thara.
The Supreme Court ruled that “match fixing may indicate dishonesty, lack of discipline and mental corruption of a player and for this purpose the BCCI is the authority to take disciplinary action. If the BCCI’s statutes provide for the imposition of disciplinary action against a player, such action is permitted, but registration of an FIR on the grounds that an offense punishable under Section 420 IPC has been committed is not permitted.”
“Even if the full charges are believed to be true on the surface, they do not constitute a criminal offense,” the court noted.
The tree players and the team official were arrested in 2019 due to allegations of fixing matches in the 2018 and 2019 editions of KPL – a local version of the IPL organized by the Karnataka State Cricket Association. Police had alleged that some KPL matches had been resolved by players and team officials with the knowledge of a governing official.
The investigation against Gautam and the others began in 2019 after the crime department obtained information while investigating a separate match-fixing case and registered an FIR at the Cubbon Park Police Department.
The investigation was challenged on the grounds that an FIR could not be registered on the basis of a confession made in another case and on the grounds that an offense under Section 420 of the IPC (of fraud) does not arise in determining cases.
The Supreme Court upheld the argument and ruled that betting on cricket matches does not equate to gambling as defined by the Karnataka Police Act to curb illegal gambling in the state.
“For invoking an offense under Section 420 IPC, the essential ingredients to be present are deception, unfair solicitation of any person to deliver property or to alter all or any part of a valuable security or destroy,” the Supreme Court noted.
“It is true that if a player indulges in match fixing, there is a general feeling that he has cheated those who love the game. But this general feeling does not give rise to a criminal offense,” the judge said.
Police counsel for the crime department argued the case amounted to cheating, as “people buy tickets to watch a game” and expect fair play.
The court also said that cricket as a sport cannot be brought under the domain of gaming as defined by the Karnataka Police Act to curb betting or gambling.
“If section 2(7) of the Karnataka Police Act is seen, its explanation says very clearly that games of chance do not include athletic games or sports. Cricket is a sport and therefore, even if it involves gambling, it cannot be brought under the definition of ‘gaming’ enshrined in the Karnataka Police Act,” the Supreme Court said.
In a case of alleged spot fixing, Asphak Gautam is said to have offered a fee of Rs 7.5 lakh to get a bowler to surrender more than 10 runs each during KPL’s 12th match on August 22, 2019, between the Tuskers and the Bengaluru Blasters.
Gautam is said to have struck a deal with off-spinner Abrar Kazi during a pre-match practice session. Kazi was given an advance of Rs 2.5 lakh for the job. During the match, Kazi gave 11 runs – including two walks – when he was brought in to make his first over (the seventh of the game), the match records show.
In the final of the KPL 2019 season, Gautam is said to have been asked by Thara to intentionally hit slow during his innings. Gautam scored 29 of 37 balls and the Bellary Tuskers lost the game by eight runs chasing a 152 goal from the Hubli Tigers. According to the police, Gautam received Rs 15 lakh in payment from Thara for the slow beating in the final.
In two other matches – match 19 of the 2019 season against Mysuru Warriors and match 21 of the 2018 season – Gautam was asked to underperform by his own team owner Arvind Reddy. In game 19 of 2019, the Tuskers scored 240, but ended up losing by three wickets and in game 21 of the 2018 season, the match was tied at 151 before the Tuskers defeated the Shivamogga Lions by 12 runs in a super over.