The magnate bookie and one of the prime accused in the Hansie-gate scandal, Sanjeev Chawla, has been extradited to India from the United Kingdom, 20 years after it rocked the entire cricket fraternity. This extradition is considered to be as the most high-profile extraditions under the 1992 India-UK Extradition Treaty.
Sanjeev Chawla, a London-based businessman, is one of the key suspects and played a central role in the 2000 match-fixing scandal, which also involved former South Africa Captain, Hansie Cronje alongside three others. While Hansie Cronje and the other South African players accepted their crime before the South African King's commission, which was set-up to investigate the matters of match-fixing at depth, Sanjeev Chawla has been seeking refuge in the United Kingdom, after his Indian passport was terminated in 2000.
This match-fixing scandal was unearthed by the Delhi Police when they were tipped-off and intercepted a call between Sanjeev Chawla and Hansie Cronje, wherein a huge sum of money was offered to Hansie by Sanjeev to lose matches in the on-going India-South Africa One Day International (ODI) series and perform in a particular pre-determined manner while also discussing about the details of other players who shall be on board to work out the plan successfully. On filing of the FIR by the Delhi Police, Sanjeev Chawla fled to the UK, where he acquired citizenship in 2005 since his Indian passport was revoked in 2000. Since then, the Indian Government has been trying to get him extradited to India. In 2016, he was arrested in London after an official request for extradition was put forth by the Indian Government and evidence regarding the same was produced in the UK Court. He exhausted all his rights to appeal in the United Kingdom, after the case went through the Westminster Magistrates Court, the High Court of England and Wales and the European Court of Human Rights in Strasbourg and hence, was finally extradited to India on the 13th of February, 2020, nearly four years after his extradition was requested by India.
The extradited bookie will be facing a criminal trial for cheating under the Indian Penal Code; since there is no law that deals with match-fixing per se. On his arrival in India, the trial court of Delhi had given 12 days to the Delhi Police to interrogate the bookie but he has been immediately shifted to Tihar Jail after an order by the Delhi High Court owing to a petition which has been filed claiming that police were not entitled to interrogate him and that the Indian Court had extradited on the terms with the UK Court, that he would be kept in Tihar Jail.
Sanjeev Chawla is often considered as the king-pin of all match-fixing events that happens throughout the world and has allegedly operated as the biggest betting syndicate in the 1990s, woking closely with the D-Company. Having him finally in the custody, it is to be seen that whether the police can go to the bottom of the matter and discover others involved in this crime which has corrupted the gentleman's game. This extradition case would also mark a turning point on the matter of prison conditions in India, a stumbling block in past extradition cases, with the High Court in England accepting a series of Indian government assurances over the accused's "safety and security" and complying with international requirements around "personal space and hygiene" while in custody.
It is interesting that even though the Delhi Police, alongside the Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) excavated the entire match-fixing saga back in 2000, it was only in 2013 that an actual charge sheet was filed against Hansie Cronje, Sanjeev Chawla and others who were involved in this scandal. This shows the inefficiency and delay in the legal process in India in such cases due to which culprits like Sanjeev Chawla escape punishment for long and most of the innocent players and officials, sometimes, lose their peak years. Under a non-existent sports legislation and no punishment as such for match-fixing, it will be fascinating to see how the Indian Judiciary goes about this matter, apart from applying criminal law and if there is any mention of the much debated topic i.e. the need of an efficient sports regulation in India, which has certainly become the need of the hour.
The time is now most certainly ripe for the Indian Government to make a specific and central sports legislation while considering the recommendations made by various stalwarts in this field and legal institutions including the Law Commission of India, Justice Mudgal Committee and Justice Lodha Committee, who have laid down guidelines to legalize and regulate betting and gambling activities and also criminalize match-fixing and form a national sports regulatory body.
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