MUMBAI, April 26 – Indian cricket authorities have suspended the head and driving force behind the money-spinning IPL tournament in a bid to stem an escalating crisis involving tax and match-fixing allegations.After a week of intense speculation that Indian Premier League boss Lalit Modi faced the axe, the news came late on Sunday, just hours after the final of a tournament he built into a multi-billion-dollar industry.
A statement from the president of the Board of Control for Cricket in India (BCCI), which owns the IPL, said he had been suspended with immediate effect and been given two weeks to prove his innocence.
"The alleged acts of individual misdemeanours of Mr Lalit K. Modi, chairman IPL and vice president BCCI, have brought a bad name to the administration of cricket and the game itself," said a statement from president Shashank Manohar.
The suspension caused waves around India, with a headline on the Times of India website reading: "Modi all but hanged without trial".
The seeds of Modi’s downfall were sown two weeks ago when he revealed the ownership details of a new franchise set to join the glitzy and globally popular IPL in 2011.
In one of his numerous postings on micro-blogging site Twitter, he embarrassed a high-profile member of the government, junior foreign minister Shashi Tharoor, by leaking how his girlfriend had been given a free stake in the new team.
Under pressure from the opposition, which accused Tharoor of misusing his office to secure benefit for himself, the minister was forced to resign, embarrassing the Congress-led government.
Since then, the finance ministry has launched a wide-ranging tax probe into the IPL, the BCCI and the owners of its franchises — powerful business and Bollywood figures — and many blame Modi for bringing the tax man to their door.
The investigation has sparked a media frenzy, with daily leaks — though nothing has been proved so far — about Modi’s unpaid tax liabilities, general corruption and kickbacks and even possible match-fixing.
Result rigging is a particularly dangerous slur on the subcontinent after federal investigators unearthed widespread illegal betting and corruption by Indian bookmakers and some leading players in 2000.
"I have waited for IPL 2010 to conclude in order to respond to the situation as I did not want the event to be disrupted in any manner," added Manohar in his statement.
The 2010 version of the annual tournament finished with a drama-filled final in front of 50,000 fans on Sunday who saw the Chennai Super Kings beat favourites Mumbai Indians in their home city.
Modi, 46, has been defiant in recent days, saying he would refuse to step down but he cut an increasingly isolated figure amid pressure from the government and ebbing support among his cricket contemporaries.
"People pressurising me to resign – I can tell you will not happen. Let them remove me then," he wrote on Twitter on Saturday.
"Wait for the ipl to finish – I will reveal the men who have tried to bring disrepute to the game and how we stopped them from doing it," he added.
On Sunday, he posted how he planned to chair an emergency meeting of the IPL’s governing council in Mumbai on Monday, though the last tweet came prior to news of his suspension.
A brash figure usually pictured in expensive suits, Modi was virtually unknown outside cricket circles until five years ago when he was made the youngest vice-president of the BCCI.
Three years later, the BCCI’s revenues had tripled after Modi launched the IPL to counter a rebel Twenty20 league owned by the country’s largest listed media house, Zee Telefilms.
The multi-million-dollar IPL, featuring the world’s top cricketers playing a shortened made-for-TV format of the game, changed the landscape of what was once a leisurely sport.
But the corporate dollars that have driven the league’s rapid expansion are now under scrutiny, though most experts agree that the IPL itself is here to stay.
Before launching the first tournament in 2008, the IPL organisers studied the English Premier League football tournament and sought to emulate its mix of high profile overseas stars, homegrown talent and foreign coaches.
Where the IPL went a step further was to take the idea of entertainment at face value and bring in a host of A-list celebrities from the only thing that rivals cricket as a national Indian obsession — the film industry.
Three Bollywood superstars — Shah Rukh Khan, Preity Zinta and Shilpa Shetty — own IPL teams and images of them and other Bollywood glitterati watching games are given a lot of air time in live match broadcasts.