Five-time Grand Slam champion Maria Sharapova is under investigation by Indian police for cheating and criminal conspiracy after the collapse of a luxury housing project that she endorsed, a lawyer said Tuesday (Nov 21).
The firm behind the development is alleged to have taken millions of dollars from homebuyers before the project folded.
Piyush Singh, a lawyer representing one of the buyers, told AFP that police had filed initial charges of cheating and criminal conspiracy against Sharapova as part of a wider case against the firm Homestead Infrastructure Development.
The 30-year-old tennis star travelled to India in 2012 to launch the luxury high-rise apartment complex – named Ballet by Sharapova – which prospective buyers were told would house a tennis academy, a clubhouse and a helipad.
The website of the project quotes Sharapova as saying her goal was to “make the owners feel like they own something special and different”.
“Any celebrity who endorses any product technically becomes an agent for that company. No one would have invested in the project if Sharapova’s name was not there,” said Singh.
The project in Gurgaon – a satellite city of the capital New Delhi – was supposed to be ready in 2016 but, Singh said, construction work was abandoned after builders collected millions from homebuyers.
Police were not immediately available for comment on the case, which is being heard in a Delhi court.
Calls to the developers also went unanswered. Sharapova has not commented on the case.
The former world number one made almost US$30 million in 2015, according to Forbes, with US$23 million of that coming from endorsements like the project in Gurgaon.
She has had a stop-start season since her controversial return to the game in April, following a 15-month doping ban.