NEW DELHI: Five-time Grand Slam champion Maria Sharapova’s tryst with controversies doesn’t seem to be over. It’s an off field controversy this time as the 30-year-old tennis star faces a major setback on accounts of cheating and criminal conspiracy in India. The Russian star has had a stop-start season since her return to the game in April, following a 15-month doping ban.
Sharapova is under investigation for cheating and criminal conspiracy after the collapse of a luxury housing project that she endorsed in Gurgaon (now Gurugram). The firm behind the development is alleged to have taken huge amount of money from homebuyers before the project folded.
Piyush Singh, a lawyer representing one of the buyers, said 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 complaint, which has been filed in a Delhi court, also names Homestead Infrastructure Maintenance, Homestead Arabic Homes, the company directors along with Sharapova.
Sharapova 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 project in Gurgaon was supposed to be ready in 2016 but construction work was abandoned after builders collected money from homebuyers.
“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 the lawyer. The website of the project quotes Sharapova as saying her goal was to “make the owners feel like they own something special and different”.
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.
So far, the tennis star has not commented on the case. The former world number one made almost $30 million in 2015, according to Forbes, with $23 million of that coming from endorsements like the project in Gurgaon.