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Panama Papers: Lokesh Sharma, a mover and shaker in sports world

The Panama Papers, investigated by The Indian Express, have revealed that Lokesh Sharma set up companies in tax havens abroad.

Written by Mihir Vasavda | New Delhi |
Updated: April 8, 2016 1:35:06 pm
he Mossack Fonseca record on Sharma’s company. The Mossack Fonseca record on Sharma’s company.

Those who know him mention his handshake. Perhaps, that was Lokesh Sharma’s way to ensure people ‘remembered’ him. “He often said, ‘mein aise haath milaunga ki koi bhoolega nahi’,” says Shailendra Singh, joint managing director, Percept. “He is a strong, aggressive deal maker with flamboyant personality and strong contacts.”

Watch all Panama Related Videos here

These attributes have fueled his journey, from a sports journalist in the 1980s to being the managing director of one of the top sports marketing firms today, Twenty First Century Media (TCM).

Watch | Sports promoter Lokesh Sharma set up entities in tax haven

The Panama Papers, investigated by The Indian Express, have revealed that Sharma set up companies in tax havens abroad, two in British Virgin Islands (BVI) and a subsidiary of TCM which is also registered in BVI.

Sharma, an alumnus of Sri Ram College of Commerce is known in the sports world as an inveterate networker.

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In 1989, Sharma teamed up with Kapil Dev and wife Romi to form a syndication-cum-production firm Dev Features. The firm syndicated columns of well-known writers and produced sports-related programmes for Doordarshan but the company folded in 1993, which is when TCM was born.

TCM would go on to become one of India’s leading sports marketing companies, with Sharma as its face. For 10 to 20 percent commission, TCM would acquire management rights for several A-list cricketers apart from being involved in hockey and football leagues. Rahul Dravid was the first major cricketer he signed in 1996 and he snapped up several Indian cricketers before they would become household names.Sharma would benefit when the budding players became stars and their image rights surge.

But Sharma would tell his friends that he was in the business of spotting talent and guiding them in their formative years. “My job is to look after their commercial affairs and allow them to focus on cricket,” he was quoted as saying in 2004.

Soon, the likes of Mohammed Kaif, Parthiv Patel, Hemang Badani, Anil Kumble and Irfan Pathan signed up with him.

Watch Video | Panama Papers: How Mossack Fonseca Helped Stash Away Billions Of Dollars

With Dravid the captain, Sharma was cricket’s power centre. “He is a relationship man. He is hands on in dealing with the players. He worked honestly and hard for sport, the business side of sport, which really attracted him,” says Shailendra, a close acquaintance of Sharma. “He travelled the world, met people and built strong contacts.”

His influence would extend beyond the pavilion to the board offices. Former BCCI president IS Bindra and current IPL governing council chairman Rajeev Shukla became his “good friends”.

TCM won sponsorship rights of the Asia Cup tournaments from 2016 to 2019. The period will cover 10 key Asia Cup competitions including men’s Asia Cup, women’s Asia Cup, Asia Cup Qualifiers, Emerging Asia Cup and U-19 Asia Cup.

TCM also has a long association with the Delhi and District Cricket Association (DDCA), dating backing to when the stadium was under construction. TCM was entrusted with the sale of corporate boxes at the Feroz Shah Kotla. During an executive committee meeting held in June 2009, according to the minutes of the meeting, then DDCA president Arun Jaitley stated ‘with the timely support of Twenty First Century Media the construction work (of the stadium) progressed

With time he moved to other sports. He associated himself with the Hockey India League and the Indian Super League. In 2012, his firm was appointed Hockey India’s marketing partner.

He got a five-year broadcast deal for the Hockey India League before bringing several private as well as PSU sponsors on board. However, he fell out with Hockey India president Narinder Batra and they parted ways. According to TCM website, the firm’s clientele includes around 30 large-scale corporates. It’s also into event organisation.

Benefit dinner for England cricketer Andrew Flintoff, a commemorative dinner for Kumble, a live show involving Ian Botham and Allan Lamb and a Legends Golf Cup involving Dev, Wasim Akram, Botham and Ajay Jadeja, are among the events, the website says, TCM organised.

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