Lalit Modi, the founder and ex-chairman of the highly lucrative Indian Premier League (IPL), is wanted by Indian law enforcement agencies on cases of financial irregularities and tax evasion dating back to 2010.
The Board of Control for Cricket in India (BCCI) alleged that Modi, acting as the Chairman of IPL Governing Council defrauded it of 753 crore rupees in collusion with officials of the World Sports Group (WSG). WSG had won the IPL overseas media rights contract. WSG Mauritius was unable to find a broadcast partner and it entered into a facilitation agreement (Rs 425 crore) with MSM (Sony) before they won the IPL media rights for Indian sub-continent from BCCI. On discovering this facilitation agreement, the BCCI led by its Honorary Secretary N. Srinivasan red-flagged the deal, called it 'improper' and reclaimed the rights. Modi was ousted from BCCI and banned for life. A police complaint was filed on October 13, 2010, by the BCCI, strangely in Chennai even though its headquarter is situated in Mumbai. The case had grabbed a lot of limelight and citizens were expecting that fugitive Lalit Modi would be brought to the country and justice be done, but as per the documents received under the Right to Information (RTI) filed by the author on behalf of The Logical Indian, it is reasonable to conclude that in fact, there is no on-going investigation in this particular case at all.
TN Police, ED, Rejection & Transfers
In May 2010, Modi fled India citing threat to his life from the underworld. On October 13, 2010, Srinivasan lodged a complaint with the Chennai Central Crime Branch (CCB) against Modi and 6 others including Venu Nair, Andrew Georgiou, Seamus O'Brian, Harish Krishnamachar, Kunal Dasgupta and Ajay Verma- all who are either from WSG or MSM or private contractor. The move was seen as piling all misdeeds at Modi's doorstep even though a Parliamentary Standing Committee had asked for registering of FIR against the then President of BCCI Shashank Manohar and other officials. Modi had said, in relation to his case, that all decisions, including financial decisions, were taken keeping everybody in the loop. It is important to note that N Srinivasan is being probed in a number of cases by the CBI and ED.
In 2012, based on the Chennai Police FIR, the Enforcement Directorate (ED) started a parallel probe in the matter. On August 20, 2015, ED through the CBI requested the INTERPOL or the International Criminal Police Organization to issue a Red-Corner Notice (RCN) against Modi. An RCN is a request to law enforcement worldwide to locate and provisionally arrest a person pending extradition, surrender, or similar legal action.
However, on March 28, 2017, INTERPOL rejected ED's request on the grounds that there is "insufficient judicial data" against Modi and that India needs to file for an extradition request first. It also said that no charges have been established against Modi as yet. Meanwhile, there was no progress in the investigation being conducted by the Chennai Police even after 7 long years. Since the police investigation was far from complete, a formal chargesheet could not have been filed against Modi in any court. And this was the ground on which INTERPOL had rejected ED's request.
A clearly frustrated and embarrassed ED wrote a strongly worded letter to the Tamil Nadu police blaming them for this rejection. Throughout 2016 and early 2017, the Tamil Nadu Police was under immense pressure from the then ED Director Karnal Singh who wrote to the then Tamil Nadu's Director General of Police TK Rajendran noting that "despite repeated requests, the Central Crime Branch of the Chennai Police had not intimated the progress made in the investigation of the case against Lalit Modi" and that "the inability of the Tamil Nadu Police in logically concluding the investigation of the case is causing embarrassment to the Law Enforcement Agencies", referring to INTERPOL's rejection. He also sought to know whether a report possessed by Modi and submitted to the INTERPOL claiming to be an internal report of the Chennai Police that concludes that the case was more civil than criminal in nature, were, in fact, genuine or not and whether an inquiry could be done to find out who leaked them to Modi.
The letter had its effect and on April 01, 2017, the Tamil Nadu DGP transferred the case from CCB Chennai to the Crime Branch Criminal Investigation Department (CB CID). However, on April 17, 2017, the CB CID requested the DGP to obtain the legal opinion of the state prosecutor to establish whether the Tamil Nadu police even has a territorial jurisdiction to investigate the case at all.
After a total 7 years, the Tamil Nadu police on July 13, 2017, declared that they have "no territorial jurisdiction" to investigate the case and that the case should be transferred to the Mumbai Police or the CBI "considering the nature, gravity and inter/intrastate ramification and the parallel investigation conducted by the ED". The Mumbai Police refused to take over the case saying that "the FIR was filed in Chennai" and sent it back to the TN Police. Again, the state prosecutor was asked for his opinion and ultimately on October 31, 2017, the Tamil Nadu state government recommended a CBI probe in the matter as the local police could "no longer go ahead with the investigation" due to the lack of territorial jurisdiction.
No Details of Investigation Done by Local Police Given to CBI
It seems that not much investigation had happened anyways. As per the documents received under RTI, the state government was not able to produce details of the result of investigation done by the local police. Document titled "Proforma for CBI Enquiry/Investigation" submitted by the then TN Additional Chief Secretary Niranjan Mardi to the Ministry of Home Affairs while forwarding the request for CBI probe lays bare this fact.
On a query asking for the result of an investigation by local police, the document simply goes on to say that the case was investigated from 13.10.2010 till 31.03.2017. It then goes on to say how the case was transferred from one place to another while giving reasons for the transfers. However, it is mute on details and results of the investigation that was supposedly carried out for 7 long years.
Almost 3 Years since Request for CBI Probe, Centre says- "Under Consideration"
The Ministry of Home Affairs after receiving this request for CBI probe against Lalit Modi from the TN government, forwarded it to the Department of Personnel & Training (DoPT) on 16 November 2017 for it being the administrative/nodal department for CBI. It is the DoPT that decides on such requests and issues the orders. The DoPT is headed by the Prime Minister of India Narendra Modi.
As per the latest RTI reply by the Public Information Officer Under Secretary SPR Tripathi, the department is yet to decide on this request for a CBI probe. This is despite the fact that it has been 2 years 9 months since it received this request. Just recently, the Centre was quick to accept a recommendation for CBI probe by the Bihar government on Bollywood actor Sushant Singh Rajput's death. But in the present case, the government has kept the request "under consideration" for an unusually long period of time. On another query asking the DoPT to furnish the copies of communication between the TN government and itself, Tripathi replied that the on-going communications cannot be revealed at this stage but transferred the RTI to Tamil Nadu government to decide whether to disclose the communications or not. In a previous instance, the Tamil Nadu Special Home Department had rejected a similar RTI filed by the author claiming exemption from the RTI Act. Similarly, on a query asking whether the file was put up before the Minister concerned, Tripathi said that the "information is not available".
What is clear from this is that the Tamil Nadu police, on its part, had stopped whatever little investigation it was doing in March 2017 itself. Since then, the investigation into the Lalit Modi case has been kept in cold storage. No reasons have been provided to understand what is taking so long to decide this request. Due to no probe and ultimately no chargesheet being filed, no extradition request can be made to the United Kingdom- where Modi is currently living.
MEA assured Parliament of 'proactive efforts' to bring back Modi, others
In February 2020, the Ministry of External Affairs in parliament, while replying to a question on Indians who have escaped abroad and are wanted by law enforcement agencies, had said: "Efforts are being made proactively for securing the presence of these accused in the country by way of issuance of LOC (look out circular), red corner notice (RCN) and extradition requests" while also naming Modi in a list of 72 Indians facing charges of financial irregularities and fraud that are currently abroad.
But it seems that in the case of Modi, not much efforts are being made to secure his presence in the country. If and when the CBI is handed over the probe, it will take a long time for it to complete the investigation and file a chargesheet. Only then can an extradition request and other requests like that for Red Corner Notice can be submitted to international organisations. And that process is a long and tedious one. It will be years before we see any notable action against Lalit Modi. An example of this would be the Vijay Mallya case, who is also a fugitive living in the UK. Though he lost all his legal battles against his extradition to India, not much has happened since then and there is no clarity on the further course of action.
Modi's Close Ties with BJP Leaders
Modi is also a man who has close ties with a few top leaders of the BJP. In 2015, the then Indian Foreign Minister Sushma Swaraj had urged the UK to facilitate travel documents for Modi to visit his cancer-stricken wife Minal Modi, who was undergoing treatment in Portugal. Keith Vaz, a Labour party Member of Parliament in the UK had used Swaraj's name to pressurise Sarah Rapson, head of UK Visa and Immigration to help Modi. Eventually, Modi was allowed to visit his wife several times. Both Modi and Swaraj accepted this but defended the move as purely "humanitarian". The Congress party had demanded Swaraj's resignation. The media labelled the controversy as #ModiGate.
External Affairs Minister Sushma Swaraj with IPL ex-commissioner Lalit Modi during an IPL match in 2010. | Source: India Today
Modi is also close to Vasundhara Raje, a close family friend, a two-time Chief Minister of Rajasthan and five-time MP who wields significant power and influence in the state and the BJP. During Raje's first term as CM in 2003-2008, Modi became a powerful figure in Rajasthan, sometimes being called the "super chief minister". During the #ModiGate controversy, Modi confirmed that Raje had also supported his application for immigration to the UK in 2011, when she was the leader of the opposition in her state, but on condition of strict secrecy. This was exactly a year after allegations of financial irregularities against him had surfaced. The Congress party had levelled allegations of corruption against Raje and her son Dushyant Singh, a four-time MP from the state for their alleged involvement in dubious money transactions with Modi.
BJP leader Vasundhara Raje with Lalit Modi | Source: The Hindu
Why stop probing Modi?
A questionnaire has been sent to the Union Minister of State, DoPT- Dr Jitendra Singh asking him whether the parliament was misled by the Government of India when it had said proactive efforts are being made to bring back Lalit Modi and when a decision could be expected on the request for CBI probe. The article will be updated if and when the Minister responds. But for now, by arbitrarily stopping and delaying any investigation in the case of Lalit Modi, the government is proactively securing his absence in the country. The only question now is- why and who is protecting Modi from the CBI?