* Panel recommends two-year suspensions for franchise owners
* Also proposes life bans for key individuals
* Judge says actions brought cricket into disrepute (Recasts with quotes and BCCI statement)
By Suchitra Mohanty
NEW DELHI, July 14 (Reuters) - A panel appointed by India’s top court on Tuesday recommended that the franchise owners of two Indian Premier League teams be suspended for two years following a cricket corruption scandal.
If ratified by the Indian Cricket Board (BCCI), the ruling will mean that the two franchises, the Rajasthan Royals and the Chennai Super Kings, cannot compete in India’s richest cricket competition for the next two years, unless they are sold to different owners.
The BCCI released a statement saying it would decide whether to implement the recommendations after fully studying the whole report.
“BCCI is committed to honour and respect judicial decisions and it would give its observations after the entire report is read and a collective decision is taken,” BCCI President Jagmohan Dalmiya said in the statement.
The Chennai Super Kings are owned by India Cements and the Rajasthan Royals are owned by Jaipur IPL. Neither franchise made any immediate comment after Tuesday’s verdict.
The panel also recommended that Gurunath Meiyappan and Raj Kundra be banned for life from the sport after both men were previously found guilty of betting on matches and passing on information to bookmakers.
Meiyappan is the son-in-law of Narayanswamy Srinivasan, the current chairman of the International Cricket Council (ICC) and the managing director of India Cements. Kundra is a former co-owner of the Royals.
“Disrepute has been brought to cricket, the BCCI (Indian Cricket Board) and the IPL to such an extent that there are doubts abound in the public whether the game is clean or not,” retired chief justice R.M. Lodha, who headed the panel, said.
The franchises argued that they should not be held accountable for the actions of individuals but the panel disagreed.
“If those who indulge in corrupt practices forbidden by the rules of the game are an integral part of the franchise... the argument that these acts were personal and... the franchise cannot be held responsible does not merit acceptance,” said Lodha.
The panel was established by India’s Supreme Court in January after a separate committee had carried out the investigation into the scandal, which broke in 2013.
More than two dozen people, including players, officials and bookmakers, were arrested by Indian police. Many were later charged with various offences.
Three players, S. Sreesanth, Ajit Chandila and Ankeet Chavan, were charged with spot-fixing, the term given to incidents in a match that don’t effect the final result but can easily attract illegal bets. A typical example in cricket is when a bowler delivers a wide or a no-ball.
Sreesanth, who denied any wrongdoing, and Chavan were both been banned for life by the BCCI. Chandila’s case is still pending.
Meiyappan was released on bail within two weeks of his arrest but still faces criminal charges.
“As the face of the team, he ought not to have indulged in betting practices,” Lodha said.
“By regularly placing bets in IPL matches... he acted in gross violation of the anti-corruption code.”
The Super Kings and the Royals are among the most successful franchises in the mega-rich IPL, which attracts most of the world’s best cricketers for the annual Twenty20 format competition in India.
The Royals won the inaugural tournament in 2008 while the Super Kings were crowned champions in 2010 and 2011.
Although gambling on horse racing is permitted in India and some of the country’s states allow casinos, betting on sports is illegal in the world’s most populated democracy.
Indian cricket officials have vowed to clean up any wrongdoing.
“The BCCI is committed to ensuring transparency, accountability and cleansing the sport in order to restore the faith and confidence of millions of cricket loving people in the glorious game of cricket in general and IPL in particular,” the BCCI statement added. (Writing by Amlan Chakraborty and Julian Linden; editing by Sudipto Ganguly)