Taxmen in India widen IPL probe

NEW DELHI: Income tax authorities swooped Wednesday on companies associated with the Indian Premier League as the government widened its probe of the cash-rich cricket tournament.

Tax raids were conducted on the Mumbai offices of Multi Screen Media and World Sports Group, the two companies handling the IPL''s television rights, the Press Trust of India (PTI) reported.

Premises of the Cricket Association of Bengal at the Eden Gardens in Kolkata were also searched "for IPL-related papers", the news agency added.

The Directorate of Enforcement, an investigative wing of the finance ministry, has registered a case against the IPL for possible violations of foreign exchange rules and regulations.

The income tax department has summoned IPL officials on Friday to hand over all tournament paperwork, including details on television rights, sponsorships and deals with franchises and players.

The tax investigation began after a government minister was forced to resign on IPL-related corruption allegations and claims from the political opposition that the league was a front for money laundering and illegal betting.

Angry officials of the Board of Control for Cricket in India (BCCI) have blamed IPL chief Lalit Modi for the controversy and sought his removal.

Modi is the driving force behind the success of the IPL, which has seen its brand value surge to 4.1 billion dollars in just three short years.

The IPL, which began in 2008, features the world''s top cricketers playing a shortened format of the game known as Twenty20. There are eight franchises owned by India''s wealthy businessmen and film stars.

Two more franchises will be added from the 2011 season.

Modi brought down junior foreign minister Shashi Tharoor by revealing on Twitter the ownership structure of a new IPL franchise from his home state of Kerala that showed a free stake had been gifted to a woman identified by Indian media as the politician''s girlfriend.

Tharoor, a former top UN diplomat, was forced to resign on Sunday over allegations -- which he strongly denied -- that the stake was a kickback for his help in putting together the consortium that bought the franchise.

The furore led the main opposition Bharatiya Janata Party to demand an investigation into the IPL, which it labelled "the Corruption Premier League".