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|June 27, 2000||
Not good enough, JudgeAshwin Mahesh
I've just turned off my Real Player, having sat through a very early morning of listening to Hansie Cronje being questioned further, first by Deputy Prosecutor Shamila Batohi and subsequently by others. And the over-riding feeling I am left with is one of dismay. If this is what the South African cricket board or the government of that country intended by this process, then it is a sad reflection on their alleged attempts to get at the truth. In simple terms, not enough was done to snatch that elusive quantity from the sacked South African captain. The judge's original order - later found to be unconstitutional - to restrict media access to the proceedings only casts a deeper shadow now.
On the first day, I imagined that Ms.Batohi wasn't quite up to the task of besting Cronje's stalling. She seemed to ask the questions that led nicely to the one with which Cronje should have been nailed repeatedly, and then at the verge of it, would move on to something else. She was either not sufficiently familiar with cricketing matters, or not sufficiently capable of pushing the matter through, it seemed. However, as the questioning dragged on - and dragged on is a reasonable description of the endless underarm that got tossed Cronje's way - she seemed to gather some steam, and began suggesting that Cronje was doing less than necessary to merit the judge's OK on his immunity.
Cronje's lawyers, on the other hand, were fairly predictable. They made the usual noises about some questions being unfair or irrelevant, and claimed never to have heard of the Delhi tapes on a matter of technicality. Perhaps that is their job, to help their client be as evasive as he can get away with. In any case, the lawyers can be forgiven their failings, or to the other extreme their zeal. They merely serve the particular interest of their clients or the prosecution, and within the limited framework that each sets himself/herself, they may only be interested in so much. But the conduct of the Commissioner himself, on the other hand, is not as readily excusable. Frankly, I was disappointed on three counts.
(1) Judge Edwin King failed to sufficiently warn Cronje that evasiveness on his part will necessarily be construed as being uncooperative. Indeed, Ms.Batohi had to remind Cronje more than once that it was not his privilege to answer or not answer specific questions, no matter the reasons he gave for his choice. Instead, the accuracy and completeness of those answers are to be used by the commission as yardsticks, we are told, in determining the extent of Cronje's cooperation.
(2) The judge exhibited an unprofessional and unnecessary camaraderie with Cronje, to the extent of engaging him in banter about wagers, and soliciting funds - lightheartedly, I admit - from Cronje when that crook decides how best to positively use his ill-begotten wealth. The joi de vivre that passed around that courtroom, specifically between Judge King and Cronje, is unbecoming of a commissioner appointed specifically to determine the extent to which the latter has corrupted the game.
(3) The judge seemed to adopt the position that what Cronje did not reveal could then be inferred by other means. To cite only one example, when Cronje was asked who among the team members had consented to fixing matches, he would only respond that a few individuals, who he named, had been against fixing a game, but would not speak of others who may have agreed. When Cronje asserted that naming those individuals would be unfair, given the time that has since elapsed and that the match wasn't fixed - according to him, anyway - Judge King should have insisted on those names, and told Cronje that due consideration would be given to the fact that despite their acquiescence, the game wasn't tampered with. The commission does have a legitimate interest in knowing if some players were interested in match-fixing, and that when a proposal was put to them, they were for it. To infer their names by elimination would unfairly closet some innocents with the crooks, it is a wonder that the judge did not concern himself with that, instead he seemed to agree with Cronje that the fair name of said crooks would be impugned by revelation.
Should Cronje be called back to the witness stand, as Shamila Batohi has indicated he might well be, ask some tough ones, Judge.
(1) Who were the players who consented to Cronje's offer to fix a whole match?
(2) In what currencies were the various monies Cronje received given to him, and how does this compare with the ones he handed over the Reserve Bank of South Africa?
(3) Was Cronje aware that at the very least, despite his rationalising his actions in the cricketing sphere, he was deliberately flouting currency laws and tax laws in South Africa? Did he realize that these could not be reasoned away as "if I was going to declare anyway, what harm is there is making a few bucks off it"?
(4) What did Cronje mean when he said that he was being honest within the terms of reference of the commission? Is there any other instance of match-fixing or attempts to do so, not already brought to the commission's attention, that Cronje is aware of?
And while you're at it, can you also make sure that "I don't recall" doesn't wash on the financial matters at least. Whatever Cronje doesn't recall, have his lawyers and accountants find out. I mean, how hard can it be for one's accountant to determine if English pounds were swapped for US dollars? Don't let the evasiveness slide. For, as it stands, we are being asked to believe that ---
(a) It is perfectly normal to be lunching or dining with someone repeatedly, or talking with him on the phone over several months, despite never knowing what his full name is. (b) It is not inappropriate that undeclared, uninvoiced monies would be given to a person for legal or illegal purposes, and large amounts at that. (c) Cronje's actions are naive and founded on greed at worst, and do not amount to any conspiratorial efforts to fix several games over an extended period of time.
The I-was-a-bad-boy mea cupla does not fly. On the evidence of the proceedings so far, one must conclude that Cronje has been less than fully honest and cooperative with the commission. The commissioner would do well to recognize this, and save himself the trouble of being compared to the Chandrachuds of the world rather than the somewhat more diligent and earnest Malik Quayyums. True, the judge might himself yet find Cronje to have not cooperated sufficiently to merit his immunity. I do not conclude in haste that the judge will render a less-than-honest verdict, and I recognize that the commission's work is far from over. Instead, I merely wish to point out that if eliciting the truth about match-fixing attempts by South Africans is the intent of the commission, a huge dose of earnest aggression needs to be towed in to these proceedings.
Mail Prem Panicker
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