HE used to get his own pictures published in Indian newspapers eulogising himself as an up-and-coming filmstar. He’s held press conferences announcing he’s getting Bjorn Borg and Jimmy Connors to play in India. Last week, according to London tabloid
News of the World , it was him, Aushim Khetrapal, proprietor of Radiant Sports Management, who made an offer of £300,000 to former English cricketer Chris Lewis to persuade English players Alec Stewart and Allan Mullaly to throw a Test match against New Zealand in August.
Lewis was apparently asked by Khetrapal to offer similar sums to wicketkeeper-batsman Stewart and fast bowler Mullaly for dropping catches and bowling wides respectively. Lewis’s encounter with Khetrapal took place in the shop of West London newsagent Kamlesh Patel. Says Lewis, who has been a long-time acquaintance of the Patels, “I was introduced to people who offered what they called a business proposal—but it was a bribe wrapped up as a business proposition. If they are offering £300,000 at the bottom of the chain then there must be an awful lot more money involved in it.” After the effort to bribe Lewis failed, Khetrapal is reported to have directly approached New Zealand captain Stephen Fleming on the eve of the Test match. Later, Fleming, supposedly, identified Khetrapal to the authorities. Say sources familiar with the incidents, “Khetrapal might just be the tip of the iceberg. The investigations might dig up a lot of dirt.”
Outlook managed to trace Khetrapal in Sri Lanka where he’s currently scouting for locales for his music video. Says he, “I have worked with people like Vijay Amritraj, Rohit Bal and Jansher Khan. I’m aghast at these charges. I deny the charges by Lewis and Fleming. I talked to and met Fleming but it was basically about representing him for newspaper columns and some television work when he arrives for the New Zealand series in India. I went through Kam-lesh Patel, who was referred to me by film producer Jagdish (of Hum Dil De Chuke Sanam fame), as a friend of Lewis and someone who might be able to help me get an English team for a benefit match I was organising in Mohali for the Punjab Cricket Association secretary M.P. Pandove. When I met Lewis there were six other people there. There was a bit of haggling over the money to be paid to the English players. I was willing to pay anything from £70,000 to £90,000. Lewis said it would be difficult to get Stewart and Darren Gough. I told him to get at least eight current Test players. The match got cancelled because of Indian board politics. I’m suing both News of the World and Lewis. I have got Lewis’s mobile number in his own handwriting with me. Lewis even called me at my Holiday Inn hotel. Personally, I have got into various controversies but this tops them all. Somebody is telling me now that Lewis has drug problems and sold his story to the paper.”
But Khetrapal himself has had a rather chequered reputation. Says Sumedh Shah of the Professional Management Group, “He has been a conman all his life. He once approached me for a tennis event and said Steffi Graf will definitely come. I told him you won’t even get near her agent. He promises a great deal but doesn’t deliver.” In the late ’80s he used to run a tennis academy at Delhi’s Modern School. In the book
Not Quite Cricket by Indian Express journalist Pradeep Magazine, Khet-rapal boasts of how he got the academy going. Says he, “I approached a business house and told them that I need finances for starting an academy at the Modern School tennis courts. They agreed. My next step was to approach the Modern School authorities and tell them that a big business house was ready to finance a tennis academy and it would be good publicity for the school. They agreed too. Thus started the Radiant Tennis Academy. Luckily for me, a son of the director-general of Doordarshan was in the academy. I came very close to this man. He became like my godfather. I tied up with Four Square to organise the national championship and made arrangements with Doordarshan to show it live. That was the first time a sports meet was shown live on television. That’s why I say I’m the man who started it all.”
ONE of the former students at the academy, however, has this to say about Khetrapal, “I was doing well. Winning local tournaments etc. He gave me and some others a cheque of Rs 750 each. The cheque bounced.” The congame, apparently, happened at all levels of his dealings. Says a senior journalist who knows Khetrapal well, “A favourite quote of his used to be ‘I can make a fool of a person 64 times’. There are many hotels in Delhi where he didn’t end up paying bills.” In pre-satellite channel days he once convinced Videocon to sponsor the Asia Cup in cricket. He sold them the idea by saying that the President would come to inaugurate the tournament. Of course, that never happened. Videocon rarely stepped into cricket sponsorship after that. Magazine has devoted nearly four pages to Khetrapal and calls him a self-styled sports promoter who claims to have made a valuable contribution to cricket. Khetrapal himself makes tall claims about his company. Magazine quotes him as saying that he has signed on Pakistani cricketers Wasim Akram and Saqlain Mushtaq. There’s also something of the narcissistic streak in him. Says Khetrapal, “Do you know I am acting in films? I have signed up with Karishma Kapoor. Wasim Akram will do the mahurat for the film. I have also been signed by Shekhar Kapoor for his new Hindi film.” Khetrapal says he is currently acting in four films, one of them with Govinda.
Incidentally, Khetrapal was in London during the World Cup and tried to bid for the quadrangular tournament currently on in Kenya. He was, apparently, trying to make a comeback after he ran into trouble with income tax authorities who had raided his house and slapped him with a tax evasion case worth Rs 4 crore. Other deals brokered by him in the past include getting Jansher Khan, the Pakistani squash champion, to play in the Mahindra tournament in Mumbai. He approached him through Zaheer Abbas. Lately, Khetrapal has been more involved in veterans cricket. Says a player who has played in one of the Khetrapal-organised series, “These matches are fishy.” In the recent Lewis-Fleming operation, Khetrapal even left his visiting card with the players. In Fleming’s case he checked into the New Zealand team hotel in Leicester along with another Indian businessman. The New Zealand captain, of course, immediately reported the approach to the International Cricket Council. Scotland Yard is now investigating the two offers and police officers might be coming to India to question Khetrapal.
The caveat is, of course, Khetrapal’s opinion on betting in cricket, as delivered to Magazine. Says he, “It is only when big betting comes to a sport that it becomes big. The only thing wrong here is that players are throwing away matches. They should not sell the nation. Otherwise, betting will generate a lot of money for the game. It is not a bad thing. It will do more good than harm.” Well, interesting.