The arrest of two first-class cricketers CM Gautam and Abrar Qazi shows that the beast of match-fixing and spot-fixing in cricket has reared its ugly head yet again.
These two cricketers represent the Bellary Tuskers franchise in the Karnataka Premier League and allegedly rigged two games in the 2019 season. The Central Criminal Branch claim that they rigged one game against the Bengaluru Blasters and the final match against Hubli Tigers. The two allegedly struck a Rs 20 lakh deal with the bookies by agreeing to bat slowly and to rig the outcome of the game.
The two arrests come close on the heels of the 26 October arrest of Bengaluru Blasters bowling coach Vinu Prasad and batsman Viswanathan, both of whom were also said to be involved in the alleged fixing.
What Law Did They Break?
Although the police complaint is currently not available in the public domain, it is likely that the charges levelled against the cricketers would be Cheating (defined under Section 415 and punishable under S. 420 IPC) and Conspiracy (defined under Section 120A and punishable under S. 120B IPC).
The prosecution is likely to contend that the alleged match fixing has compromised the game’s integrity, the players have colluded with bookmakers, and these actions have led to an erosion of public faith in the game.
While all these are sound arguments on a rhetorical level, it is unlikely that the case under these provisions would hold against the players.
This is due to two features of the criminal justice system. The first is that there must be strict interpretation of the provisions of the criminal law to prove the occurrence of any offence. The second is that the prosecution must prove their case beyond reasonable doubt and the accused shall be given the benefit of doubt.
Fixing Not ‘Cheating’ or ‘Conspiracy’
The offence of cheating has two essential requirements.
- Firstly, it requires there to be the deception of a person.
- Secondly, there has to be transfer of property between the alleged wrong-doer and the sufferer. In the case of match fixing/spot fixing neither of these conditions are met.
For deception to constitute cheating under the Indian Penal Code, there has to be a specific affected person and it cannot be against society at large.
In any case of match-fixing, no specific spectator is privy to the alleged manipulation and these cases are usually launched by the police for the deception of public at large. Since there is no individual complainant or sufferer who can claim such deception and because there is no transfer of property that has taken place between the accused as well as the victim, the offence of cheating is not made out.
To prove conspiracy, the following conditions are required to be met.
- Firstly there must be two or more persons.
- Secondly such persons must either agree to perform an illegal act or they must agree to do a legal act via illegal means.
Whereas the first requirement of there being two or more persons is easily satisfied, proving the second represents a far more formidable task for the prosecution. There is nothing in the Indian Penal Code which per se treats match fixing as an illegal act and therefore this requirement is not met. Furthermore it is not always possible to prove that illegal means have been employed to undertake fixing. Due to these reasons, it is quite tough to show that there has been conspiracy within the meaning of Indian Penal Code.
Difference From the Pakistani Spot-Fixing Case
The key difference that exists between the cases of these two players and the case of the Pakistani cricketers (Asif, Aamir and Butt) is that they were prosecuted under different criminal law provisions.
In United Kingdom, betting is legalised and match-fixing becomes punishable under Section 42 of the Gambling Act, 2005. The logic is that bookmakers are investing money into sports betting through a legalised route and are contributing towards the formal economy. These bookmakers as well as the general public have a stake in ensuring that the outcome of the game is unaffected by deception since it may result in manipulation of their bets and they risk losing out on their hard earned money. It was in this backdrop that the Pakistani cricketers (Mohd Asif, Mohd Amir and Salman Butt) were successfully prosecuted and ultimately convicted for spot fixing.
Judicial Precedents in India
Compared to the Pakistani spot fixing case, the most high-profile spot fixing criminal case that went to court is that of ex-India cricketer S Sreesanth and other persons who were implicated in the IPL Spot Fixing scandal.
The Delhi Police had charged them for the offences of Cheating and Conspiracy under the IPC and Organised Crime under the Maharashtra Control of Organised Crime Act (MCOCA). The provisions of MCOCA are considered stricter than IPC and are usually used against gangsters and hardened criminals.
As discussed previously, these charges of cheating and conspiracy do not hold against the persons. Additionally, the procedural requirements of proof are stricter in MCOCA than under other criminal laws.
Unsurprisingly, in July 2015, a trial court in Delhi after hearing extensive arguments and reviewing the charge-sheet that had been filed in the case, found that the evidence presented by the police was insufficient. It held that there was no criminal case against the cricketers as well as the other persons and therefore acquitted all 36. This decision has been challenged by the police in the Delhi High Court but the appeal has remained pending and the criminal trial has not been revived.
Predicted Outcome and The Way Forward
It is therefore quite likely that the players would plead for parity in terms of the 2015 S Sreesanth judgment by the trial court in Delhi. The courts are eventually likely to accept this argument and reject drawing of any parallels with the Pakistani spot fixing case.
This would result in an acquittal for the two accused Karnataka cricketers.
If India were to legalise betting then any legal bookmaker can lodge a complaint against the match-fixers. Since such a bookmaker has been deceived due to the sporting fraud and also lost money, their complaint would be a sufficient basis to prosecute the alleged fixers. Alternately, India can amend its Penal Code and make match-fixing a criminal offence.
(The author is a counsel at the Supreme Court of India and has studied Sports Law at Harvard Law School.)
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