Mumbai/New Delhi: As season 3 of the Indian Premier League (IPL) neared its climax with the second semi-final in Navi Mumbai, tax officials again questioned IPL commissioner Lalit Modi on Thursday as the premises of two team owners were searched and aviation minister Praful Patel came under pressure for his alleged involvement in the controversy.
Almost a week after he was first quizzed by income-tax officials, Modi faced them for the second time in 24 hours in Mumbai, with the probe focusing on a multi-million dollar deal for the telecast rights of IPL matches.
Officials of the Enforcement Directorate (ED), which is probing whether there was any flow of illegal foreign funds into IPL, were also involved in the questioning of Modi at the Four Seasons hotel.
Tax officials also surveyed the offices of GMR Group and Sahara group—the owners of Delhi Daredevils and the new Pune team—in Delhi and Lucknow, respectively.
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A Sahara official familiar with the development said: “The income-tax officers had come for a physical verification of the IPL bid documents. The document also has the shareholding pattern of Sahara Adventure Sports and the names of the directors of the company. Sahara Adventure Sports is fully owned by Sahara group. We have nothing to hide from the department.”
Stumped: IPL chief Lalit Modi in Mumbai on Thursday. I-T officials questioned Modi over corruption allegations for a second successive day. AP
The offices searched on Wednesday included those of Kolkata Knight Riders, Chennai Super Kings, Deccan Chargers and Kings XI Punjab.
According to ED officials, the teams of the two central agencies collected documents relating to the IPL franchisees from Modi’s office at the Four Seasons in central Mumbai and later questioned him at another office at Nirlon House in Worli.
Modi was then taken to the offices of IPL franchisee Mumbai Indians at Nariman Point for questioning and verification of documents, according to people familiar with the development.
On Wednesday night, income-tax officials questioned Modi hours after searches at the premises of three entities associated with IPL.
Modi’s questioning on Wednesday focused on the broadcasting rights of IPL after it emerged that a “facilitation fee” of $80 million (Rs356 crore today) was paid by Multi Screen Media Pvt. Ltd (MSM) to World Sports Group (WSG) to re-acquire the telecast rights of the league.
During Thursday’s inquiry, Modi was understood to have been asked questions about the payment of a portion of the facilitation fee by MSM to an offshore company of WSG in Mauritius, a tax haven, allegedly without paying income tax on the transactions in India, people familiar with the development said.
In Kolkata, tax officials claimed to have found some “incriminating” documents during searches at the offices of Kolkata Knight Riders and Cricket Association of Bengal, which went on till 1am on Thursday morning.
“This is just harassment. And I can see where this is coming from. They want to send out a strong message to the franchisees and that’s fine,” said a senior spokesperson for the Kolkata Knight Riders team, who did not want to be identified. “If they have any ‘incriminating evidence’, it’s news to us. Cause it’s more than any of us know.”
Meanwhile, on the political front, the Nationalist Congress Party (NCP) came under the spotlight over the alleged role of Patel and other leaders, and their family members in the IPL.
The NCP ruled out the possibility of agriculture minister Sharad Pawar or Patel resigning.
Dismissing media reports on the involvement of its leaders and their family members, party spokesperson D.P. Tripathi said: “No political party has made such a demand. There is no basis for it. There is no question.”
Pawar’s daughter and lawmaker Supriya Sule warned that “appropriate” legal action would be taken against those who were trying to defame her family. She was responding to reports about her husband Sadanand Sule holding a 10% stake in MSM.
Media reports suggested that Sadanand Sule holds a stake through power of attorney from his father B.R. Sule in MSM, the telecasting agency of IPL. Talking to reporters outside Parliament, Supriya Sule denied these accusations.
Patel also denied that he or his office had shared inside information with former minister of state for external affairs Shashi Tharoor on the Kochi IPL bids.
Tharoor was forced to resign after getting embroiled in the controversy over the ownership of the Kochi IPL team.
Santosh K. Joy in New Delhi also contributed to this story..