President & Group Managing Director: Dr.Shelly Ahmed | Editor in Chief & Group CEO: M H Ahssan

Friday, May 24, 2013

FIXING: MEIYAPPAN, MUMBAI POLICE PLAY HIDE AND SEEK

By M H Ahssan / Hyderabad

When the Queen of England is not in residence at the Buckingham Palace, the Union Jack flutters over the iconic palace to signal the royal absence to her plebeian subjects – and to anyone else who may profit from that information. It is a curious courtly protocol that was introduced in 1997 after a controversy that arose following the death in a car crash in Paris of Princess Diana, whose relations with the British royal family had become severely strained.

Far away from London, another such royal ritual involving flags and a “Super King” was played out for Mumbai Police officials who turned up in Chennai to serve a summons notice on Gurunath Meiyappan, CEO of the Chennai Super King franchise and the jamai raja of BCCI president N Srinivasan.
Evidently, when the Mumbai Police team turned up at the stately home of Meiyappan, they encountered a red flag planted in a corner. According to local journalists, this was intended to signal that Meiyappan, the man who is now being sought for an explanation of his alleged links with betting syndicates that have tainted the latest IPL series, was not in residence.

“If he were inside, a green flag would be planted,” according to a local journalist quoted in media reports.

If only the Mumbai Police had been familiar with this protocol, perhaps they may have been spared a royal run-around. Only a day earlier, a posse of their finest policemen had gone to the salubrious hill station of Kodaikanal – evidently following a tip-off that he was there – in order to serve the summons notice. They then considered going to Kolkata, the venue of the IPL 6 final on Sunday, in the belief that the CEO of the Chennai Super Kings franchise would turn up to cheer his team.

They instead turned up in Chennai, but their efforts to track him down were fruitless, perhaps partly because they had given way too many intimations of their imminent arrival in Chennai thanks to a hyper media that tracked every leg of their journey from Mumbai.

An elaborate cat-and-mouse game is now under way between the Mumbai Police and Meiyappan. The golfing businessman with a passion for cricket and, evidently, the adrenaline rush that comes from placing big bets on his own team’s cricketing fortunes (according to Vindoo Dara Singh, who is now in police custody), has indicated that he will appear before the Mumbai Police on Monday.

Media reports now have it that Meiyappan is cooling his heels in Kodaikanal, along with his father-in-law, and isn’t allowing mundane matters like a police summons to disturb the tranquillity of his holiday. Evidently he believes that if the battery of lawyers he will surely hire can have the weekend to pore over the charges in the betting scandal, they can do a better job of preparing his defence.

Meiyappan hasn’t been named as an accused in the case; he is only being sought for questioning in connection with the allegation made by Vindoo Dara Singh that he was punting on his team’s fortunes. And, to be abundantly clear, Meiyappan is within his legal rights to seek an alternative date for his appearance for questioning in connection with a criminal case – although that luxury isn’t always afforded to those without political or other clout.

But just the sight of Meiyappan playing hide-and-seek games with the police, when he has so much of his reputation – and that of his father-in-law – riding on clearing his name from the taint of association with the sensational scandal makes for bad – and deeply incriminating – optics.

As N Ram of The Hindu observed in a CNN-IBN panel discussion on Thursday, Meiyappan was “entirely wrong in not facing up to the law.” The moment the reports appeared in the media, he should have made himself available to the Crime Branch of the Mumbai Police, he added.

Cricket commentator Kishore Bhimani too makes the point that Meiyappan’s apparent reluctance to submit himself to the criminal investigation with despatch damns both him and his father-in-law Srinivasan.

But even as Meiyappan delays the inevitable, his own brother-in-law is prising open an incriminating can of worms. Srinivasan’s estranged son Ashwin (who has allegedly been disinherited because he is homosexual) has, in an interaction with DNA, gone public with yet more damning allegations against Meiyappan and Srinivasan.

According to Ashwin, Meiyappan has had connections with bookies from Chennai and Dubai for long – even before the IPL started.

“What began as a relatively smaller side-business became a full-fledged one over the years,” he says.

More damagingly, Ashwin claims that there may be more to Srinivasan’s frequent stopovers in Dubai – ostensibly to refuel his private aircraft – than meets the eye.

As of now the Mumbai Police are unyielding in their demand that Meiyappan appear before them by 5 pm on Friday. Latest reports indicate that he is now headed for Mumbai, although given the logistical difficulties, that deadline may not be met. Knowing how power dynamics work, it’s entirely possible that the telephone lines are buzzing with entreaties to the political class to get the Mumbai Police to ease up on their investigation.

For now, however, the red flags are out for Meiyappan- and not just at his stately home in Chennai. And with his artless attempts to dodge or delay his encounter the long arm of the law, the “Chennai Super King” resembles nothing so much as a hunted man on the run.
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